Martial Law Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Martial Law, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Martial Law?

(n) Martial Law is the law prevailing in the land, when it is subjected to military activities or when it is under a military rule arising out of a situation like war, calamities, disasters, emergencies etc. In Military rule constitutional or fundamental rights of the citizens are temporarily withdrawn and commanders or head of the rule acquire dictatorial powers

History and Meaning of Martial Law

Martial Law has a long, complicated history dating back to Ancient Rome. The term itself comes from the Latin phrase, "Martialis lex," or "Military law." Martial Law is declared when the normal functioning of civil government is disrupted due to an emergency situation like war, insurrection, or natural disasters. In such circumstances, military rule temporarily replaces civilian authority, and the rights and freedoms of citizens may be suspended.

Examples of Martial Law

  1. Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco declared Martial Law in New Orleans, authorizing National Guard soldiers to enforce a curfew and confiscate firearms in certain areas of the city.

  2. In 1975, Indonesian President Suharto declared Martial Law, suspending civil liberties and arresting tens of thousands of political dissidents.

  3. During the 1967 Detroit Riot, Michigan Governor George Romney called in the National Guard and declared Martial Law, allowing law enforcement to arrest and detain individuals without due process.

Legal Terms Similar to Martial Law

  1. State of Emergency: A declaration by a government that allows for the suspension of certain laws and restrictions during a crisis.

  2. Insurrection: A violent uprising against an authority or government.

  3. National Emergency: A situation that threatens the security, health, or safety of citizens and requires immediate action and resources.