SEPANGGAR, Malaysia (May 29, 2015) – Submarine tender USS Emory S. Land (AS 39) Command Judge Advocate Lt. Ryan J. Sylvester met with Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) Legal Officer Lt. Cmdr. Mohd Shamsuni and toured a RMN military courtroom to learn about the RMN military justice system during a port visit to Sepanggar, Malaysia.
This visit was part of a week of engagements between U.S. Navy and RMN personnel to exchange knowledge and further develop the longstanding partnership between the United States and Malaysia.
“This kind of engagement is exactly what I was looking for when I wanted to join the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps,” said Sylvester. “I wanted opportunities not just to see the world, but to learn first hand from counterparts from other countries and hopefully share my experiences and knowledge along the way.”
One thing Sylvester learned is that for the RMN military justice program there are no juries unlike the United States court-martial system. Instead the RMN court-martial has only judges and varies in composition depending on whether the alleged offender is enlisted or an officer. Enlisted cases have three judges while five judges make up the composition of the court for officer cases. In the United States, the Manual for Courts-Martial (MCM), specifically the Rules for Courts-Martial (RCM), sets forth composition of courts in RCM 501.
Similar to the RMN system three and five are relevant numbers, although in the U.S. military justice system these represent the minimum number of members (i.e., jurors) with three being the minimum for a Special Court-Martial and five being the minimum for a General Court-Martial that does not involve a capital offense. Unlike the United States system that provides a judge advocate to each defendant, the RMN system does not provide a lawyer. The defendant must hire a civilian attorney at his or her own expense. Additionally, there is no military appellate court system as in the United States. Instead RMN defendants must appeal to the High Court in the civilian court system.
The most common offenses within the RMN include desertion and drug offenses.
“I could somewhat relate when I learned this,” said Sylvester. “Although I have not heard much about desertion cases in the U.S. Navy, I did have several drug related administrative separation board clients and one court-martial client facing drug charges during my time as a defense counsel with Defense Service Office North in Washington, D.C.”
Similar to most judge advocates in the U.S. Navy, a legal officer in the RMN is selected through a specialized application process that requires legal education before entry into the service. RMN legal officer applicants complete a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.) whereas United States applicants complete a Juris Doctorate (JD). Upon entry into the RMN, legal officers are at the rank of lieutenant. The most common promotion path for U.S. Navy judge advocates is to promote to lieutenant after their first year of service. Although RMN legal officers do not serve on ships for the remainder of their career, Shamsuni explained that part of RMN legal officer training includes a first assignment aboard a ship for one and a half years to provide familiarization with the Navy. Shamsuni served on the multi-role support ship KD MAHAWANGSA (1504).
Similarly, for U.S. Navy judge advocates there are relatively few opportunities to go to sea.
“I feel very fortunate to be serving aboard USS Emory S. Land (AS 39) to increase my familiarization of the Navy and to do so, like Lt. Cmdr. Shamsuni, aboard a support ship” said Sylvester. “Emory S. Land is particularly well suited for exposure to the Navy because of the diverse range of personnel aboard the ship—the captain is a former commanding officer of a submarine, the ship is driven by Military Sealift Command civilian mariners, the wardroom is composed primarily of limited duty officers with a wealth of knowledge and experience in the U.S. Navy, and the crew is a mix of submarine and surface sailors.”
In addition to the visit with Shamsuni, Sylvester gave a brief on Law of the Sea to other members of the RMN while other personnel from Emory S. Land gave briefs on other topics related to submarine operations. “We learned a lot from these presentations,” said Cmdr. Zaman, of the RMN. “I hope we can further extend our engagement and be able to meet again.” Emory S. Land is a forward deployed expeditionary submarine tender on an extended deployment conducting coordinated tended moorings and afloat maintenance in the United States 5th
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