National Security Minister Wayne Perinchief and Regiment Commanding Officer Lt Col. Brian Gonsalves. *Photo by Raymond Hainey
National Security Minister Wayne Perinchief and Regiment Commanding Officer Lt Col. Brian Gonsalves. *Photo by Raymond Hainey

MONDAY, AUGUST 20: Bermuda Regiment soldiers will get the right to trial for military offences in a civilian court, it was revealed on Monday.

National Security Minister Wayne Perinchief and Regiment Commanding Officer Lt Col. Brian Gonsalves said the move would ease fears of bias among the troops — and bring the island’s armed service into line with EU human rights law and British military legislation.

Mr Perinchief said: “Having this option serves to remove any allegations of bias and ensures that soldiers are guranteed a fair and impartial trial.”

He stressed: “It’s not the intent of this legislation for harsher penalties to be imposed on those soldiers who are found guilty after electing a Magistrates’ Court trial — Magistrates will have full discretion within the parameters of the law in regards to sentencing.”

Mr Perinchief added that the new rules — signalled in the Throne Speech and set to go to Cabinet for approval soon — would also give more options for disciplining Regiment officers and Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs).

He said: “Options for discipline must be fair, equal and constant across all ranks of the Bermuda Regiment.

“These amendments will ensure that the most senior members of the Regiment are held accountable and subject to disciplinary procedures comparable to those imposed on soldiers of a lower rank.”

Col. Gonsalves said that, in larger armed forces like the British or Canadian Army, soldiers could appeal sentences up the chain of command to brigade or divisional level — an option not available in Bermuda, where he is the senior serving officer.

Mr Perinchief added that fines for misconduct had also been updated — with days of pay being used as a measure, rather than specific dollar fines, again in line with the UK and other armies.

Col. Gonsalves said the changes had come about after a review of discipline by a legally-qualified solider from the British Army’s Judge Advocate General’s office.

He added that it was part of a drive to modernise the Regiment to face challenging new roles outside the traditional military one.

Col. Gonsalves said: “The Regiment is working to come into line with international best practices.

“To some folks it might seem more cumbersome but it’s the right. It’s modernized and in line with other militaries.”

And he added: “If a soldier feels he has been criminally wronged he has the right to go to the police. That hasn’t changed. That exists already.”

He said that the most common offence dealt with was a failure to show up for drills and there was already scope for civil courts to deal with the problem.

Col. Gonsalves explained that, if a soldier did not heed advice at company level, the matter would be referred to him.

He added that, if a soldier appeared before him twice on the same disciplinary matter, he would then be referred to Magistrates’ Court.