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Fundamental Changes Needed to Improve the Independence and Efficiency of the Military Justice System

Report to the Congress

October 31, 1978

In October 1978 the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) published a report making recommendations to the Congress and the Secretary of Defense addressing problems with the defense and trial counsel organizations in the four military services. GAO had found that these problems had led to “perceptions that military justice is uneven, unfair, and of low priority.” GAO concluded that although some of the problems identified could be “alleviated or corrected within existing organizational structures, fundamental organizational changes were needed to bring about long-range improvements.”

GAO stated in this report that convening authorities, in carrying out their responsibilities, could influence the outcome of cases, and concluded that separating the administration of the justice system from military command functions would “lessen the appearance of command influence.” GAO specifically recommended that Congress revise the UCMJ “to remove convening authorities’ responsibility for administering and funding the justice system, including the detailing of judges, jurors, and defense and trial counsel; and the funding of witnesses.” They should “retain responsibility for referring cases to trial and exercising clemency power.”

For several reasons, GAO endorsed the concept of consolidation of military justice functions to create a single defense and trial counsel organization in the Department of Defense (DOD). According to GAO, consolidation would be “in consonance with the objective of uniform justice because it would provide greater consistency in the application of procedures and resources.” GAO therefore recommended that DOD “consolidate defense and trial counsel organizations at single bases and proximate bases where it is feasible and cost effective,” and study the feasibility of establishing a single defense and trial counsel organization in DOD. It also recommended reforming the budget process to allow both the “development of total costs relating to military justice functions, and comparison of costs between services and among service activities and organizations.”

DOD and the military services found merit in many of the GAO recommendations. However, the services disagreed with the extent that the role of the convening authorities should be reduced. Both DOD and the services did not support the concept of a single defense and trial counsel organization.  

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Fundamental Changes Needed to Improve the Independence and Efficiency of the Military Justice System
GAO Report

 

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  March 20, 2014
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