What is Conduct Unbecoming?

Introduction

Conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman (or conduct unbecoming for short) is an offense that is subject to court martial in the armed forces of some nations.

Use in the United Kingdom

The phrase was used as a charge in courts martial of the British Armed Forces in the 18th and early 19th centuries, although it was not defined as a specific offence in the Articles of War.

For instance, in 1813, Colonel Sir J Eamer was brought before a court martial “For behaving in a scandalous, infamous manner, such as is unbecoming the character of an officer and a gentleman, towards Captain B V Symes of the same regiment…”

The charge seems to have been first codified under the British Naval Discipline Act of 10 August 1860, which says;

“Article 24: Every Officer subject to this Act who shall be guilty of Cruelty, or of any scandalous or fraudulent Conduct, shall be dismissed with Disgrace from Her Majesty’s Service; and every Officer subject to this Act who shall be guilty of any other Conduct unbecoming the Character of an Officer shall be dismissed, with or without Disgrace, from Her Majesty’s Service.”

Use in the United States

The offense is defined in the punitive code, Article 133, of the United States Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), enacted at 10 U.S.C. § 933.

Article 133. Conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman:
Any commissioned officer, cadet, or midshipman who is convicted of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.

10 U.S.C. § 933 (effective 2008).

The elements are:

  1. That the accused did or omitted to do certain acts; and
  2. That, in the circumstances, these acts or omissions constituted conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman.

Here “officer” is understood to include commissioned officers, cadets, and midshipmen of both sexes, hence the more common term conduct unbecoming. A gentleman is understood to have a duty to avoid dishonest acts, displays of indecency, lawlessness, dealing unfairly, indecorum, injustice, or acts of cruelty.

Sport

“Ungentlemanly conduct” was a cautionable offence in Association football until 1997, when it was redefined as “unsportsmanlike conduct”.

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