Country report and updates: Bermuda

Last revision: 10 Sep 1998
10 Sep 1998

1 Conscription

conscription exists

Conscription is enshrined in section 4 (3) (b) of the 1968 Bermuda Constitution Order.

The legal basis of conscription is the 1965 Defence Act.

Military service is performed within the Bermuda Regiment, which has four roles: supporting the police in the preservation of public order, assisting in times of natural disaster, particularly hurricane relief, performing ceremonial duties and defending Bermuda from external threat. [3]

Bermuda is the only British dependent territory in the Caribean that uses conscription.

There are no separate provisions for conscription in wartime. The British government, the Bermudan government and the Bermudan Regiment seem united in the belief that the armed forces will never be used in any war, as Bermuda faces no conceivable military threat.

military service

All men between the ages of 20 and 22 are liable to military service (Defence Act, section 13A).

The length of military service is three years and two months. It involves part-time service in the Bermuda Regiment (Defence Act, section 19) and involves attendance in weekly evening drills (at least 40 such excercises) and an annual 15-day camp (Defence Act, section 21).

"In the interests of public safety or defence" the Regiment may furthermore be "embodied". Service is to be full-time for the period of embodiment (Defence Act, section 32).

There are no reservist duties.

postponement and exemption

Postponement is possible during full-time studies, including studies abroad (Defence Act, section 25 (1) (b)).

Exemption is possible for medical reasons (Defence Act, section 17).

The Governor has special exemption-power (Defence Act, section 22), as does the Exemption Tribunal (Defence Act, section 23).

Special exemption seems to have been granted to members of certain religious groups such as Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses and Rastafarians. [1]

Exemption seems to be granted restrictively, although no precise figures are available. One or other of the above-mentioned procedures appears to have been used to exempt eight individuals from military service from 1989 to 1992.


Call-up takes place annually. As there are more eligible conscripts than the requisite number of recruits, selection of conscripts is by annual computer ballot of 19 to 22 year olds so as to achieve the needed quota of app. 200 men (Defence Act, section 16). [1]

2 Conscientious objection

legal right

The right to conscientious objection is enshrined in the 1968 Bermuda Constitution Order (Defence Act, section 4 (3) (b)).

Its further legal basis is laid down in section 27 of the Defence Act.

There is no clear definition of conscientious objection, each case being treated on its own merits. There is no evidence of any bias for or against any particular motivation.

right for whom

Any person called for conscript military service has the right to claim CO status (Defence Act, section 27 (1)). Apparently it has been difficult to apply for CO status while performing military service, but this is becoming easier.

There are no formal provisions for professional soldiers to apply for CO status.

There is no separate application procedure for CO status in wartime, which anyway the authorities insist is a purely hypothetical contingency in the case of Bermuda.

There is no legal means of removing a CO's exemption once granted.

procedure and practice

Applications must be made to the statutory Exemption Tribunal, to which those liable to serve may apply 'at any time' after initial registration for the ballot. The Tribunal transmits its decision to the Governor, who is required by law to implement the Tribunal's decision.

There is a right of appeal, the applicant being entitled to appeal to the Governor. Furthermore an applicant may apply to the Supreme Court for enforcement of fundamental rights (Bermuda Constitution Order, section 15), and afterwards to the Bermuda Appeal Court, then finally to the judicial committee of the Privy Council in London.

A particular 1994/95 case illustrates the inadequacy of the legislation. The Defence Act (section 27 (4)) provided COs with the sole option of non-combatant service within the Regiment, while the Bermuda Constitution Order (section 4 (3) (b)) mentions civilian labour as a possible alternative to military service. So an applicant, who had been accorded the sole option of non-combatant service, having appealed in vain to the Governor then applied to the Supreme Court, again without success. Finally, the Bermuda Appeal Court ruled that the Defence Act contravened the Constitution and ordered the applicant to serve as a conscientious objector, but not by having to perform non-combatant service within the armed forces. Since part-time compulsory alternative service was not feasible, the applicant was actually wholly exempted from any service. In 1998 a bill was introduced to amend the Defence Act by providing COs the option to apply for for non-combatant service or 'alternative community service'.

Another case illustrates a different problem. The Exemption Tribunal had arbitrarily refused even to hear a particular applicant, without offering any reasonable explanation. The Supreme Court ordered a hearing in which the applicant was successful.

The above mentioned 1994/95 case got good press coverage, which must have been noticed by most people. Subsequent cases have also received front page coverage in the Bermuda press.

It has been asserted that the authorities have in effect granted special exemption members of certain religious groups such as Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses (see: postponement and exemption). It is not known whether this may be because of possible refusal to perform military service.

substitute service

As stated above, the amended Defence Act provides for 'alternative community service' as well as a non-combatant service within the Bermuda Regiment. The legal status, length of service and pay of non-combatants in the Regiment is exactly the same as that of other soldiers.

3 Draft evasion and desertion


Refusal to respond to a call-up notice is punishable by up to three months' imprisonment and/or a fine of maximally USD 900,- (Defence Act, section 17(2)). Prosecution is in a magistrate's court, which is civil (not military). [1]

A conscientious objector declining to perform some or any non-combatant duties is in the same situation, facing the same possible punishment.

The military requirement is not ended by imprisonment, and a new call-up notice can be served after release from prison. A new application for CO status can then be made to the Exemption Tribunal. This cyclicle situation comes to and when the person concerned has reached the age of 33 (Defence Act, section 17A).


Statistics on draft evasion are not known, but call-up is believed to be not generally evaded.

The Bermuda Regiment publicizes names and dates of birth of all those failing to register for military service, adding that they may face imprisonment or a fine if they don't present themselves. [1]

A leading Bermudian newspaper suggests conscription is widely criticized for being discriminatory and unfair, and has issued reports of new conscripts being humiliated and sworn at. However, the same source acknowledges positive aspects of military service as "it has probably saved many young men from a slow but sure brain death from rampant illegal narcotics usage". [1]

6 Annual statistics

The Bermuda Regiment includes 27 professional staff (full-time officers and non-commissioned officers) and 400-500 part-time conscripts. [2]

The number of men reaching conscription age every year is not known, although it is believed to somewhat exceed the 200 quota obtained by the ballot.

These are the figures for the people granted CO status:

1989 -1992 17 granted non-combatant status

1995 1

1996 1

1997 2

It is not known how many have applied for CO status, but this may well constitute the entire number of applicants.


Most of the information was provided by Hetherington, Bill 1996-1998. Responses to CONCODOC questionnaire, 13 December 1996, 13 February 1997, 28 February 1997 and 9 July 1998. Peace Pledge Union, London. [1] Royal Gazette 1997. Bermuda Online, online presentation of the Royal Gazette. [2] Bermuda Regiment 1996. Online presentation of the Bermuda Regiment, created by St. George's Preparatory School. [3] Supreme Court of Bermuda 1992. Civil Jurisidiction 1992, No. 527.

Recent stories on conscientious objection: Bermuda

01 Dec 2011

Anti-conscription campaigners are vowing to head to London’s Privy Council again after losing their latest battle in Bermuda’s Court of Appeal, the Royal Gazette reported on 9 November 2011. Bermudians Against the Draft (BAD) had been appealing against Puisne Justice Norma Wade-Miller’s April ruling that Government did not act unconstitutionally by conscripting Jamel Hardtman and brothers Larry Jr and Lamont Marshall. The three appellants had argued their constitutional right to be protected from inhuman treatment would be breached if they had to do military service.

05 Nov 2009

The Privy Council, Bermuda's highest court, will hear a case against conscription brought by Bermudans Against the Draft (BAD) next year in February. BAD first launched the court action in late 2006. They lost their first hearing in the Supreme Court in March 2008 and lost again in the Court of Appeal in November 2008. However, the Court of Appeal gave permission to take the case to the Privy Council because it agreed it is of sufficient public importance to be considered further.

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