What Is Martial Law?

martial law

Introduction: What is Martial law?

Martial law is a temporary rule by military authorities of a designated area in time of emergency when civil authorities are deemed unable to function. This means that, in the case of elected governments, the representatives chosen by the voting population are no longer in power. It is generally used to regain control temporarily and reinstate order.

Martial law is rarely declared by a civilian government due to its negative consequences. When martial law is declared, civil liberties, such as the right to free movement, free speech or protection from unreasonable searches, can be suspended. Civilians may be arrested for violating curfews or for offences that, in normal times, would not be considered serious enough to warrant detention. And the writ of Habeas corpus may be suspended. This means that the military can detain individuals indefinitely without the possibility of recourse.

The Uses Of Martial law

Declaring martial law is a last resort reserved for situations where law and order are rapidly deteriorating. It may be declared to control protests, civil unrest, or violent uprising against the ruling government. It may also be declared when a country’s military occupies foreign territory, such as at the end of a war.

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It is usually the president who has the power to declare martial law. The circumstances in which it may be declared and other limiting factors, such as the amount of time it may be in effect, are according to a country’s constitution. For example, a president may be authorized to declare martial law during a period of violent civil unrest, but only for 60 days. International laws may also limit the scope and duration of martial law if a country has signed in a multilateral treaty.

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Many countries around the world have certain provisions that allow martial law to be used. For example, during the Irish War of Independence (1919-1921) the British government, who controlled much of Ireland, declared martial law to maintain control of Irish citizens. The British used the military to suppress Irish resistance fighters, who they believed were putting the public’s safety at risk.


In the case of natural disasters such as an earthquake or floods, martial law is rarely declared. Instead, governments declare a state of emergency. When a state of emergency is declared, the government may expand its powers or limit the rights of its citizens. The government does not, however, have to hand power over to its military. In some cases, a government may invoke a state of emergency specifically to suppress dissent or opposition groups.