“The Tribunal: A Court of Justice”

The Tribunal was the official paper of the No-Conscription Fellowship and was written to inform the public about the Military Service Act and the Conscientious Objectors who fell foul of it.

The Tribunal reported on the lives of COs - from their motivations and reasons for Objecting to War to their experiences at Tribunal, in prison and beyond. It was written clearly, and often movingly, with the intention of keeping COs and their thousands of supporters and sympathisers updated with the latest information in the struggle against conscription and militarism.

The Tribunal was named after the boards to which men would apply for exemption from Military Service. Millions of men around the country would apply for exemption on various grounds - only one of which was “a Conscientious Objection to the undertaking of combatant service”. Tribunals would sit in town halls, parish churches and local schools and sought to secure as many men as possible for the army.

They were supposed to judge fairly, recognising the needs of both the military and civilian worlds. In reality they were often harshly dismissive of men applying for exemption - especially to Conscientious Objectors. Their actions and decisions bore little relation to the laws that governed their actions. A Tribunal could grant absolute exemption to a man who had a genuine, strongly felt objection to war.

The fact that only 2% of CO applicants were given exemption shows why the Tribunal magazine proudly displays Webster’s Dictionary definition of it’s title, a wry and mocking

“Tribunal. A court of justice”

For the CO, it would often be anything but.

As a paper chronicling resistance to an Act of Parliament the Tribunal had a surprisingly long life. It was published weekly from March 1916 and at it’s height, had a distribution of over 10,000 copies.

From 1916 onwards, the printers and publishers of the Tribunal - often women - were involved in a clandestine struggle against Government censors. Their offices were raided, printing type was stolen and eventually the press on which the Tribunal was printed was confiscated and broken down for scrap iron. Though all of this, the remarkable editorial and publication staff of the Tribunal, with the support of their No-Conscription Fellowship colleagues managed to keep the paper running!

The NCF’s strong-minded and determined staff had thought ahead. They had a network of connections and sympathisers (some in other papers angry about press censorship), including two supporters who were skilled printers. Through these individuals, working in secret in a location as yet unknown, the Tribunal continued to see print.

Why is the Tribunal so important?

The Tribunal provided a vital service to Conscientious Objectors all over the country, keeping them updated with the latest news, providing inspiration, guidance and examples of how an individual can successfully resist conscription. For men and women up and down the country, the Tribunal showed them on a weekly basis, that war could be resisted. Most COs found their experiences difficult, whether in a Work Camp, in prison or simply undergoing scorn and ridicule for their views. For these men, the Tribunal could be a lifeline, linking them to the wider struggle.

The Tribunal also often played the role of advisor, suggesting to COs undergoing their tribunal hearings, court martial or magistrates court hearing, how they could best convince their gaolers they were genuine men of principle. It also offered guidance on the types of work COs were expected to do - alerting men looking at non-combatant service with the army, for example, that other COs were being forced to move armaments.

From a contemporary perspective, the Tribunal is perhaps even more important. With the passage of so much time between the present day and it’s publication, the Tribunal has slowly become one of the most important sources of CO information. The Tribunal published the names, dates and experiences of COs whenever it could. This information is invaluable to anyone looking to study Conscientious Objection.

Aside from the information that COs and modern-day historians can get from the Tribunal, it’s also simply a very well written paper. By turns funny, inspiring, sad and moving, it’s always a phenomenally interesting read, and we will be bringing the stories published by Joan Beauchamp, Lydia Smith, Bertrand Russell and many others to you over the next two years.

The Tribunal, Monthly

Each month we will highlight a few important articles covered in the Tribunal. The paper contains many different types of articles on often surprisingly different topics and we will look into some of the most interesting, different and moving.

Along with these highlight articles we will include the pages they come from, allowing you to delve into the Tribunal yourself - let us know if there’s anything that catches your eye for a clarification, more information or anything else!