The Abe administration's July 1 Cabinet decision to allow Japan to take part in collective self-defense will bring major changes to the nature of the Self-Defense Forces, including raising the possibility that the SDF could take military action overseas to assist a country under attack that shares close ties to Japan even if Japan is not under attack. This also raises the question of whether the introduction of a courts-martial system to the SDF would be necessary.
SDF members engaged in such missions may be exposed to life-or-death situations. Some people think that courts martial would be necessary to speedily deal with SDF members who desert their front-line posts or commit other violations in such a situation. But the creation of such an institution would deviate from the provision of the Constitution that bans the establishment of extraordinary tribunals outside of the judiciary.
The SDF has no courts martial because Article 76 of the Constitution says in part, "No extraordinary tribunal shall be established, nor shall any organ or agency of the Executive be given final judicial power." Under the Self-Defense Forces Law, SDF members are given up to seven years' imprisonment for desertion under enemy fire, refusal to obey commands and leaking secrets. Members who violate the SDF Law are tried in ordinary courts just like other Japanese citizens.