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Armed Forces Code of Social Conduct

Civilian Law Military Law and Codes - Military Law and Codes

Armed Forces Code of Social Conduct: Policy Statement

1. This Code of Social Conduct explains the Armed Forces' policy on personal relationships involving Service personnel. It applies to all members of the Armed Forces regardless of their gender (including gender reassignment status), sexual orientation, race, religion, belief, ability, rank or status. The provisions apply equally to members of the Regular and the Reserve Forces. The Code of Social Conduct should be read in conjunction with the Ministry of Defence's Unified Diversity Strategy.

2. In the area of personal relationships, the overriding operational imperative to sustain team cohesion and to maintain trust and loyalty between commanders and those they command imposes a need for standards of social behaviour that are more demanding than those required by society at large. Such demands are equally necessary during peacetime and on operations. Examples of behaviour that can undermine such trust and cohesion, and therefore damage the morale or discipline of a unit (and hence its operational effectiveness) include:

  • unwelcome sexual attention in the form of physical or verbal conduct
  • over-familiarity with the spouses, civil partners or partners of other Service personnel
  • displays of affection which might cause offence to others
  • behaviour which damages or puts at risk the marriage, civil partnership or personal relationships of Service personnel or civilian colleagues within the wider defence community
  • misuse of rank and taking advantage of subordinates
  • probing into a person's private life and relationships
  • It is important to acknowledge in the tightly knit military community a need for mutual respect and a requirement to avoid conduct which offends or causes distress to others. Each case will be judged on an individual basis.

3. It is not practicable to list every type of conduct that may constitute social misbehaviour. The seriousness with which misconduct will be regarded will depend on the individual circumstances and the potential for adversely affecting operational effectiveness and team cohesion. Nevertheless, misconduct involving abuse of position, trust or rank, or taking advantage of an individual's separation, will be viewed as being particularly serious.

4. Unacceptable social conduct requires prompt and positive action to prevent damage. Timely advice and informal action can often prevent a situation developing to the point where it could:

  • impact adversely on third parties; and/or
  • impair the effectiveness of a Service individual or unit
  • result in damage to corporate image or reputation

However, on occasion it may be appropriate to proceed directly to formal administrative or disciplinary action. Such action is always to be proportionate to the seriousness of the misconduct. It may constitute a formal warning, official censure, the re-assignment of one or more of the parties involved or disciplinary action. In particularly serious cases, or where an individual persists with, or has a history of acts of social misconduct, formal disciplinary or administrative action may be taken, which might lead to termination of service.

The Service Test

5. When considering possible cases of social misconduct, and in determining whether the Service has a duty to intervene in the personal lives of its personnel, Commanding Officers at every level must consider each case against the following Service Test:

"Have the actions or behaviour of an individual adversely impacted or are they likely to impact on the efficiency or operational effectiveness of the Service?"

This Service Test lies at the heart of the Armed Forces' Code of Social Conduct; it is equally applicable to all forms of conduct, including behaviour while not on duty. In assessing whether to take action, Commanding Officers will consider a series of key criteria. This will establish the seriousness of the misconduct and its impact on operational effectiveness and thus the appropriate and proportionate level of sanction. Each of the Services has its own statement on values and standards.

Diversity Impact Assessment

This policy does not discriminate on grounds of race, ethnic origin, religion, belief, sexual orientation or social background. Neither does it discriminate on grounds of gender, disability or age, insofar as the legislation applies to the Armed Forces. The Diversity Impact Assessment is held by the "Code of Social Conduct" Policy sponsor.