The IAF has strength of 139,000 and operates over 1100 first line aircraft. This makes it the 4th largest Air force in the world. This vast force is subject to special laws like in all countries. The Air Force personnel are governed by the Indian Air Force Act 1950. This is a revised version of the Air Force act 1932 enacted during the days of the Raj.
Air Force personnel are subject to two sets of laws. These include the laws of the land like the Indian Penal Code (1862) and the Indian evidence act (1872). In addition they are governed by the Air Force act 1950 read in conjunction with the Air Force rules 1950.
Th Indian Air Force act 1950 has a proviso of Court martial. This is a special military court that hears charges against personnel subject to the act. In case a civilian is involved than section 71 of the act known as ‘concurrent Jurisdiction’ comes into play. Charges against Air Force personnel subject to the act are tried by a court martial. The types of court martial’s are as follows
a) District Court Martial (DCM). This court martial has jurisdiction over personnel below officer rank. Thus enlisted men up to the rank of Master Warrant Officer can be tried by a DCM. The DCM is presided over by a Wing Commander and will have 3 members. A Judge Advocate from the legal Branch of the IAF will also attend the court as a member. The court can award a maximum sentence of 2 years imprisonment or lesser punishment.
b) General Court Martial (GCM). This has jurisdiction over all officers and men of the Indian Air Force. The Presiding officer will usually be of the Rank of Group captain or higher and the GCM can award any punishment under the act including death.
The GCM has 5 members who are all commissioned officers and they will be assisted by a Judge advocate from the Judge Advocate General’s branch. The presiding officer of a GCM will always be senior in rank and service to an accused officer.
c) Summary General Court Martial (SGCM). This is a special court martial and is activated during a war. The procedure of a SGCM is slightly different from a GCM and DCM. On active service it can be convened by the Officer Commanding and shall not consist of less than 3 officers. A SGCM is a special court martial during active duty and war and is covered in section 121 of the Air Force act 1950.
The convening authority for a GCM is the Central Government or the Chief of Air Staff, while a DCM can be convened on the orders of the Air Officer Commanding in Chief of a Command. Normally there is no appeal against any punishment awarded by a Court-martial, but the sentence is subject to confirmation by the Chief of Air Staff (CAS). However an aggrieved party can approach the Supreme Court on a procedural lapse by a DCM of GCM
In the Indian army there is another type of court martial called the Summary Court martial, but it does not exist in the AF Act 1950. The Summary court martial can be convened by the officer commanding and no members are required. It can award any punishment other than death and imprisonment for more than one year