Canadian Supreme Court: jury trial exception for military members is constitutional

On 26 July 2019, the Canadian Supreme Court ruled that military members charged with civilian crimes do not have the right to be tried by a jury, if they are tried in the military justice system.

Several Canadian military members – accused of serious crimes – unsuccessfully argued that the National Defence Act (NDA) breached their constitutional right to be tried by jury.

A Supreme Court majority denied the appellants’ argument that section 130 of the NDA is inconsistent with section 11 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Charter), affirming that military members can indeed be tried for civilian crimes without juries and upholding the ‘military exception’ in section 11(f) of the Charter.

[W]e conclude that s. 130(1) (a) of the NDA  is not inconsistent with s. 11 (f) of the Charter . In our view, the words “an offence under military law” in s. 11 (f) refer to a service offence that is validly enacted pursuant to Parliament’s power over “Militia, Military and Naval Service, and Defence” under s. 91(7)  of the Constitution Act, 1867 . As this Court’s jurisprudence confirms, s. 130(1) (a) is rooted in this head of power. Where, therefore, a serious civil offence is tried as a service offence under s. 130(1) (a), it qualifies as “an offence under military law”, thereby engaging the military exception in s. 11 (f).

R. v Stillman [2019] SCC 40, [9]

The Supreme Court’s official “case in brief” summary is available here.