THE GOVERNMENT has introduced new arrangements to ensure military court proceedings are not taking place in private, after the issue was raised by The Northern Echo.

Army chiefs have now changed their procedures to ensure the public and the media are properly informed about court martials, after Richmond MP Rishi Sunak raised the issue with Defence Minister Mark Lancaster.

It follows an instance at Catterick Garrison earlier this year when two cases of manslaughter against soldiers who had served in Afghanistan was not heard in public, because the Ministry of Defence (MoD) had not given sufficient advance notice to enable the general public and media to attend.

A journalist working for The Northern Echo and its sister paper Darlington & Stockton Times contacted Mr Sunak about the issue.

As a result he wrote to the minister pointing out that the Ministry of Defence had breached its own guidelines about advance notice of military hearings, which must adhere to the principals of open justice by being heard in public.

In a letter to Mr Sunak, Defence Minister Mark Lancaster said changes had been made to ensure that public holidays do not interfere with the standard procedure for publicising cases at least one day in advance.

Mr Sunak welcomed the minister's assurance.

He said: "Open justice is a cornerstone of a healthy democracy and it is vital that our local media is adequately informed of when hearings, especially those involving serious allegations, are being heard."

Andy Richardson, editor of The Northern Echo and Darlington & Stockton Times, said: “While we thank Mr Sunak for his support it is important to remember that none of this would have happened were it not for the persistence of our assistant news editor Stuart Minting.

"Stuart’s determination to ensure that court martial hearings are better publicised has secured a victory for our readers and reaffirmed the principle of open justice.”  

The Military Courts Service has four centres around the UK, including Catterick Garrison, which deal with crimes committed by servicemen and women.

Information about the Catterick hearings at Easter were made available after the court martial in which two members of Catterick Garrison’s 32 Engineer Regiment were sentenced over the death of Adam Moralee in Camp Bastion, Afghanistan in 2014.

Sapper Thomas Lloyd and former Lance Corporal Phillip Smith denied manslaughter but both pleaded guilty to negligence in duty.

Lloyd was sentenced to nine months detention, while Smith was given an eight-month prison sentence suspended for 18-months and a curfew.