Court-martial is a temporary court for the trial of members of the armed services. It is set up to hear specific charges of breach of discipline. In the United States there are three levels of court-martial: summary, special, and general. The summary court-martial can inflict a sentence of up to one month, the special court-martial can inflict a sentence of up to six months, and the general court-martial can inflict any sentence, including death.

   Military courts have always been made up of officers, but since 1948 enlisted men tried by general court-martial have had the right to demand that one-third of the court be composed of enlisted men. Military courts pattern their procedures after civil tribunals, affording the defendant all the usual legal safeguards. The principal differences are the absence of a jury and the decision of a case by a simple majority. The military court acts as both judge and jury.

   All court-martial cases involving punitive sentencing are reviewable by a board of review, consisting of three officers who are legal specialists. If the verdict is upheld, a last possible appeal can be made to the Court of Military Appeals, composed of three civilian judges appointed by the President. The President himself must give the final review in death sentence cases.

   The legislatures of most countries establish the code of military law governing a court-martial. Before 1950, members of the U.S. Army and Air Force were under the Articles of War, and members of the Navy and the Marines were under the Articles for the Government of the Navy. At that time, Congress combined the codes governing the separate services and enacted the Uniform Code of Military Justice.