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Thursday, 29 April 1915

Mr GLYNN (Angas) .- I understand that the Attorney-General proposes to delete from the Bill the power to try by court martial civilians who are not alien enemies. When this proposal wasbefore the Imperial Parliament, on 24th February, there was a general feeling, which was expressed by some members, that the Act upon which we modelled our legislation, and which was passed on the 27th November, 1914, was a mistake in respect to these provisions. Civilians ought not to have been included within the provisions of the measure as regards courts martial, and the Act was amended in February by leaving in those provisions, but inserting a proviso that the option should be given to British subjects, within four days, of electing to be tried by a civil tribunal; also the provision in clause 8 giving power to suspend was inserted. But had the matter come on as a new proposal, the Bill would have been differently drafted. It would not have given power of court martial over civilians, but a provision would have been inserted enabling the Executive in casesof invasion or other special emergency to extend the scope of the Bill to civilians. That is what ought to ha?e been done, but as such a course would have involved an alteration of the text of the Bill, the other means was adopted. When honorable members on this side spoke on the question yesterday, we did not wish to embarrass the Government, and if the Minister assured us that the powers herein contained were necessary, we were prepared to vote for them. It was stated in the House of Commons by the Attorney-General, Sir John Simon, speaking on behalf of the Government, that the special emergency under which the suspending clause would operate - that is the clause taking away the option to be tried by a civil tribunal - was in invasion or other such special emergency. If the Government will administer the provisions of sub-clause 8 in the sense of Sir John Simon's remarks, I do not see that any harm will be done by retaining it in the Bill. The reason for such a provision in England is that the Imperial Government have not yet been given power by Act of Parliament to proclaim martial law. The moment war broke out martial law was declared in Germany and France, but we have a different tradition, and, so far, no power to take that step has yet been given. This clause does not deal with martial law, but with trial Dy military tribunals in certain cases' for offences against the existing law.

Mr Hughes - It does not suspend the processes of the civil tribunal.

Mr GLYNN - No; it gives the alternative in certain cases of trying offences against the existing laws by courts martial ; but there is no power here, or by Act in the United Kingdom, to deal with civilian offenders under martial law. If an emergency did arise, martial law would be proclaimed, but in order to avoid that, they have taken this special emergency power to try by a special military tribunal offences committed before the Act authorizing the proclamation of martial law is passed. Knowing that was the case, I did not wish to press for an amendment to be made. Nevertheless, if the Attorney-General chooses to go beyond that, and restore the right of trial by jury, I will not object, because that step logically follows from the position which a good many honorable members have taken up. If, however, the Government are inclined to administer this provision in the sense of the assurance given in the House of Commons by Sir John Simon, that the option of trial by a civil tribunal would be interfered with only in case of an emergency, such as an invasion, I do not think it will be objectionable.

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