Martial law

From Academic Kids

Martial law is the system of rules that takes effect (usually after a formal declaration) when a military authority takes control of the normal administration of justice (and usually of the whole state).

Martial law is instituted most often when it becomes necessary to favour the activity of military authorities and organizations, usually for urgent unforeseen needs, and when the normal institutions of justice either cannot function or could be deemed too slow or too weak for the new situation, i.e., due to war or civil disorder, in occupied territory, or after a coup d'état. The need to preserve the public order during an emergency is the essential goal of martial law. However, declaration of martial law is also sometimes used by dictatorships, especially military dictatorships, to enforce their rule.

Usually martial law reduces some of the personal rights ordinarily granted to the citizen, limits the length of the trial processes, and prescribes more severe penalties than ordinary law. In many countries martial law prescribes the death penalty for certain crimes, even if ordinary law doesn't contain that crime or punishment in its system.

In many countries martial law imposes particular rules, one of which is curfew. Often, under this system, the administration of justice is left to military tribunals, called courts-martial. The suspension of the writ of habeas corpus is likely to occur.


Examples in and of various countries

The United States

In United States law, martial law is limited by several court decisions handed down during the American Civil War and World War II. In Ex Parte Milligan 71 US 2 1866, the Supreme Court of the United States held that martial law could not be instituted within the United States when its civilian courts are in operation. The United States has not been in a declared state of national emergency since March 9 1933 (see Senate Report 93-549 (

The U.S. State of Tennessee

The Tennessee Constitution outlaws martial law within its jurisdiction.


For many years the Canadian government could institute martial law through a piece of legislation known as the War Measures Act. This act was evoked three times, in both world wars and in 1970, to suppress a gang of violent Quebec nationalists in an episode known as the October Crisis.


The Chinese constitution originally granted the National People's Congress the power to declare martial law. In 1989 Premier Li Peng unilaterally evoked the martial law clause to allow the military to stage a crackdown on Tiananmen Square protestors. This action proved controversial, and in 2004 the clause was finally weakened into a provision that allowed the government to simply declare a state of emergency.


While under the rule of the Kuomintang regime, Taiwan had the distinction of having the longest period of martial law in modern history. In the aftermath of the 228 Incident of 1947, martial law was declared in 1948, and the need to suppress Communist and other dissident activities on the island meant that the martial law was not lifted until 1987.

See also

he:ממשל צבאי it:Codice marziale ja:戒厳令 pl:Stan wojenny pt:Lei marcial zh:紧急状态


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