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An Armed Forces Act is required every five years. The need for an Act dates back to the 1688 Bill of Rights which requires the consent of Parliament to be given to maintain an Army in time of peace. As such, one of the Act’s most important functions is to provide the legal basis for the armed forces to continue to exist as a disciplined force.

The last Armed Forces Act received Royal Assent in November 2011 and will expire in November 2016. Therefore a new bill is required in the 2015-16 Parliamentary Session. The Armed Forces Bill (Bill 70 of 2015-16) was presented on 16 September 2015 and Second Reading debate in the House of Commons is scheduled for 15 October 2015.

The Select Committee on the Bill took evidence on 18 November and undertook line-by-line consideration on 24 November. The Committee made no Special Report and did not amend the Bill. The Bill is being taken in Committee of the whole House on 16 December 2015.

The purpose of the Armed Forces Act is to provide the legal basis for the armed forces and the system of military law which exists in the UK. It sets out nearly all the provisions for the system of service law – of command, discipline and justice – that applies to all service personnel wherever they are operating. In the past the Act has also been used to introduce any new measures relating to the armed forces that fall outside the Act’s traditional remit of service discipline.  

The Armed Forces Act 2006 was extensive and amounted to a complete overhaul of the legislation relating to military law and Service discipline. The Armed Forces Act 2011 was much smaller in scale and most of its provisions amended the Armed Forces Act 2006. In a similar vein, most of the provisions of the Armed Forces Bill 2015 amend the Armed Forces Act 2006 and relate to the armed forces’ disciplinary system. The exceptions are clauses 14 and 15 which relate to Ministry of Defence fire-fighters.

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