Martial Law

Martial Law, government by military authorities. Martial law derives its justification from the need, when civil authority is inadequate, to use military force to suppress insurrection, riot, or disorder, or to deal with public calamity. Inasmuch as martial law is called forth by necessity, the extent and degree to which it may be employed and may supersede civil authority are also measured by necessity.

Martial law is invoked when there is a state of war, or insurrection or rebellion amounting to a state of war. It is not clear whether this is truly a law, or merely the use of the amount of force necessary by the state (in England, the Crown) and its officers to restore order. The Bill of Rights in England forbids the declaration of martial law in time of peace.

Once the state of war is actually established, the courts cannot question military acts. In the case of a riot or disturbance, on the other hand, the courts can determine whether the amount of force used was excessive. It is customary whenever martial law or some variant of it has been applied, as in wartime, to pass an Act of Indemnity to protect any officer from legal attacks on their conduct during the period of martial law.

A less rigorous form of suspension of normal procedures is the declaration of a state of emergency, which is declared by proclamation. A state of emergency may be declared, for a maximum of a month, when the essentials of life for the population are threatened. It allows regulations to be made without an Act of Parliament, and grants certain powers to government ministers.

In wartime, a nation may invoke martial law over its own territory as part of the war effort; such action is distinct from military occupation by an invading power. Martial law may also be invoked in cases of severe internal dissension or disorder, either by an incumbent government seeking to retain power or by a new government after a coup d’├ętat. Often in the case of a military coup, military authorities take over the state administrative and judicial apparatus, and civil and political liberties are suspended. Nations experiencing significant periods of martial law during the 1970s and 1980s included Chile, the Philippines, Poland, and Turkey.

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