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By John Thurman

The Court of Honor:  What it is

The Court of Honor is as old as Scouting and in my view is absolutely fundamental to successful Scouting in the Troop.

Now that is a pretty definite and, indeed, a dogmatic statement, and is meant as such. Without the Court of Honor trying to do its job effectively the Patrol System itself is not only bound to fail but is in some respects potentially dangerous. Through Scouting we have always the problem of developing on the one hand self-reliance, which is a very different thing from self-sufficiency, and, on the other hand, showing a boy through the activities of Scouting his relationships with other people and gradually giving him an unselfish approach to everything he does. The Patrol System worked without the Court of Honor can almost imperceptibly lead into selfishness, arrogance, and a whole host of other undesirable qualities. We therefore inevitably arrive at this point:  If the Scout Troop is to give full value to its members it must be run using the Patrol System, and the Patrol System itself must include a full understanding and use of the Court of Honor or, put more simply, if we stick to the teaching of the Founder as laid down in Scouting for Boys, we stand a chance of achieving some real results.

When I think back over the successful Troops I have known through the years, the Troops I have been proud to acknowledge in this country and in many other countries, time and time again I have been impressed by the fact that these were or still are the Troops where the Court of Honor realized its functions as the Founder conceived them and was allowed to fulfill them, where the Patrol Leaders had a sense of unselfish responsibility, and where the emphasis was on the Honor of the Troop.

B-P devised it

B-P was an essentially modest man and very often had little to say about his greatest ideas; he gave us the germ of the idea and left us to work it out in practice. His first reference to the Court of Honor is in Scouting for Boys, and I quote it in full because I want you to re-read it, accepting it without reservation as the aim towards which we should work. Now when I say re-read, I mean take it slowly, ponder each phrase, absorb its innermost meaning, and make it a real part of your Scouting understanding and philosophy.

Extract from Scouting for Boys:

"A Court of Honor is formed of the Scoutmaster and the Patrol Leaders, or, in the case of a small Troop, of the Patrol Leaders and Seconds. In many Courts the Scoutmaster attends the meetings, but does not vote.

The Court of Honor decides rewards, punishments, programs of work, camps, and other questions affecting Troop management.

The members of the Court of Honor are pledged to secrecy; only those decisions which affect the whole Troop, e.g., appointments, competitions, etc., would be made public."

Not just an idea

One of the most over-worked words in current life is "inspiration." I say over-worked because inspiration alone, in mid-air, as it were, never has achieved and never can produce anything; it is only when inspiration is built upon the sure foundation of solid fact that achievement is possible. The Court of Honor is, or should be, a solid fact.

I suppose that most people will agree that Scouting for Boys is inspirational; it is inspirational, of course, because it is practical, but, perhaps it has not occurred to you that there is inspiration in such an apparently mundane publication as "Policy, Organization and Rules" (POR). There are few finer phrases in the whole of Scout literature than those contained in Rule 239(2), "The Court of Honor is responsible for guarding the Honor of the Troop." Ponder that too, and ask yourself if your Court of Honor gets anywhere near doing just that. The rule goes on to more matter-of-fact things such as the internal administration of the Troop and the expenditure of Troop funds, but I want you to face up to this responsibility for the guardianship of the Honor of the Troop; I want you to accept that this is the first and most important function of the Court of Honor and that unless you can get across to your Patrol Leaders this sense of responsibility for tradition and Honor, both personal and corporate, then your Court of Honor will be not as the Founder intended it to be but just another committee meeting. Committees, of course, have their place in Scouting as in all democratic institutions: they have problems to resolve and duties to fulfill, but the Court of Honor is on a much higher plane; it is concerned primarily with those hard-to-put-into-words but nonetheless real things which concern the emotions, the feelings, and the sensibilities of people. It is out of the Court of Honor that the true spirit of Scouting and, therefore, the true spirit for the Troop must grow and flourish.

I wonder how many Scoutmasters, when there is an addition to the Court of Honor through the appointment of a new Patrol Leader, remember to read over to those assembled the words I quoted above from POR and from Scouting for Boys. You can call them the terms of reference if you like, although I would call them something more important. I have never yet known any committee to function effectively unless its terms of reference were clearly outlined before the meeting started; knowing what we are supposed to do is vital. If it is true that adults cannot hope to achieve success unless they know what they are attempting, surely it is even more true of a crowd of boys. Give them the job and the leadership and they will find a way to achieve success, but a Court of Honor which meets spasmodically without any particular purpose will rarely find one.

The Virtue of Sticking to it.

It is against this background of Honor and purpose that I want to try to guide you in the actual workings of the Court of Honor. Let me admit freely at the start that all of us who have tried to work the Patrol System have found it difficult and sometimes disappointing; we have all been let down by individual Patrol Leaders, and the Patrol Leaders have sometimes been let down by the Scoutmaster, but reflection shows me that it was the effort to make it work on the lines the Founder indicated which ultimately produced the strength and the spiritual unity which is essential to the proper leadership of any Troop. In other words, to have faith in the Scout method, not to give up because of difficulties, not to try to do things by some different means, but to have "stickability" of purpose, are the essentials required of any Scoutmaster.

I want now to lead you phrase by phrase through that paragraph of Scouting for Boys.

How to Form the COH.

First of all, the formation of the Court of Honor. Some who read this will perhaps be starting new Troops and there are special conditions which apply to them. It is a great mistake to say, "We will get the Troop running first and the Court of Honor will grow out of it." The correct way is to get the Court of Honor working properly and to let the Troop grow out of that. The first meeting is the one where you start to establish tradition and, whether you realize this or not, it is so. A good start to any new endeavor is quite invaluable. Without a conscious effort to build a worthwhile tradition you will inevitably start a bad or poor one. If you are starting a new Troop presumably you have the wisdom to start with comparatively few boys or, at any rate, to give special attention to the older recruits who will be the first batch of Patrol Leaders and Seconds. As soon as they have passed the Tenderfoot Test and been invested they should be formed into a Court of Honor and should begin to establish the traditions on which the Troop is to a founded.  This will give your selected Patrol Leaders a sense of responsibility and the immediate opportunity to make suggestions for activities; about who is and who is not going to be allowed to join the Troop; and, not least, it will be through the Court of Honor that you, as their leader, will begin to understand the characters of your Patrol Leaders.

Changing Membership.

Of course, much of this is true of the established Troop. It is necessary to pause and remember that the makeup of any Court of Honor, is of necessity constantly under change; boys grow up in Scouting and pass on to another section of the Movement, and it is a strange Troop where all the individuals on the Court of Honor will remain the same for more than twelve months. We therefore have the continuing problem or, as I see it, the continuing opportunity for giving through the Court of Honor the same training, the same chance to absorb tradition, and the same opportunity to accept responsibility, to an unending flow of recruits to its ranks. 


I must deal with the membership of the Court of Honor. Obviously, Patrol Leaders attend and, in the case of a small Troop, the Seconds as well. If this prompts the question, "What is a small Troop?" I would answer that any Troop of three or fewer Patrols is a small Troop and the Seconds should attend for all except the inner business of the Court of Honor, to which I will refer later. If the Troop has more than four Patrols then I do not think the Seconds should have any part in the Court of Honor except on occasions when a Patrol Leader is unavoidably absent. I believe the Court of Honor works best when it is small; in fact, it is a Patrol Of Patrol Leaders guided by the Scoutmaster. Some Scouters like to think of themselves as the Patrol Leader of their Patrol Leaders and up to a point this is all right although it is not a complete analogy as there are dangers in following that pattern to a conclusion.

The Scouter

B-P said this of the Scouter's position with the Court of Honor: "The Scoutmaster attends the meeting but does not vote." In the Patrol Leaders' Handbook the illustrator produced a delightful cartoon showing a Scoutmaster, who had clearly been trying to vote, recumbent in his chair with a growing bump on his head, the Patrol Leaders having dealt in an un-Scout-like but reliable way with his desire to intervene.

You will notice that nothing is said about Assistant Scoutmasters. The senior ASM, the fellow I would call "Deputy Scoutmaster" should always attend the Court of Honor for the sake of continuity and because it is necessary in regard to some the business of the Court of Honor for Scouters other than the Scoutmaster himself to know what is going on, but the Court of Honor should certainly not be open to Instructors or any other unwarranted helpers. If you can establish that an invitation to the Court of Honor meeting is a privilege and not a right you are very much on the right lines.

To sum up, then, the Court of Honor will be composed of all Patrol Leaders, the Troop Leader (if there is one) who should be the Chairman, Seconds in the case of a small Troop or as deputy for a Patrol Leader, the Scoutmaster and one or two ASM's, attending in an advisory capacity but not voting.

The Scoutmaster does not, repeat not, take the Chair. Some adults seem to have an extraordinary desire for taking the Chair on every conceivable occasion, but in the Court of Honor, however keen the Scouter may be, however able he may be, he will keep out of the Chair and will remember that the Court of Honor is the boys' own show, it is their job to run it and the Scouter is there only to advise and not to interfere. The Troop Leader or the senior Patrol Leader is the obvious Chairman, although there is some advantage in the chairmanship moving round about every three months.

"Its decisions are secret"

"Members of the Court of Honor are pledged to secrecy." What a wise provision is this which the Founder made, and how stupid we are to overlook it. Some adults have an infinite capacity for knocking the romance out of Scouting. One of the essentials of a Scout Troop is the very proper delight of the normal boy in secret societies. This secrecy should be one of the privileges of being a Patrol Leader. Properly handled it will delight the Court of Honor and stimulate the rest of the Troop, but carried to excess it can become absurd, give rise to the wildest of rumors, and end in utter confusion. When handled intelligently, secrecy is a very valuable spice in the Scout cake.

B-P went on to say, "Only those decisions which affect the whole Troop, e.g., appointments, competitions, would be made public." Well, lets stick to that—it is so eminently sensible, and do at least try to let the Patrol Leaders tell their Patrols instead of the Scoutmaster always telling the whole Troop.

Court of Honor Room

When I was in Australia I was tremendously impressed with the Court of Honor Rooms which I was privileged to see in several Troop Headquarters. I thought again about the successful Troops in this country and I realized how many of them had Court of Honor rooms, a room into which only the members of the Court of Honor are admitted and to which only the members have keys. I witnessed in Australia, as at home, the effect that had both on the Patrol Leaders and on the Scouts who made up the Troop. It makes for a continuing desire to aspire to membership of the Court of Honor which will lead many Scouts over a hurdle which they might not otherwise have bothered to climb.

The Court of Honor Room can be decorated as the Court of Honor decides, perhaps with the Scout Promise and Law prominently displayed, the Troop Log, and an Honors Board for Queen's Scouts, First Class Badges awarded, and for past Patrol Leaders. Here are kept trophies, the Colors, and the jawbone of the moose that somehow became the driving force of Summer Camp in a past year.  It may be that many of these things will be displayed in the Troop Room itself, and certainly the Troop as a whole should see them, but here, in the Court of Honor Room, they can be of great significance.

I know that many of you who read this will say that you meet in a schoolroom or a church hall and cannot have a room of your own, but if you do say this you are thinking of the wrong sort of room. A Court of Honor room can be similar to a Patrol Den, the sort of place which will serve our purpose but is probably no use to anyone else, a loft, a store room in a basement, almost anything. Surely it is not beyond the wit of even the most urban Troop to find something somewhere about eight feet square which will serve this purpose. If the lead is given to the Patrol Leaders I am satisfied they will make an effort to find their own Court of Honor room, especially if they are told it is to be theirs and no one else will be admitted to it.

When to meet

How often should the Court of Honor meet? There is no single or simple answer to this question. It should meet formally at least once a month but it will have to meet in any emergency and for any special purpose, and it can with advantage meet after each Troop meeting. When the Troop is in camp the Court of Honor should meet daily, preferably at the end of the day when the Patrols are going to bed under the command of the Seconds. Writing that brings back memories of summer nights round the dying embers of the camp fire.

For the monthly meetings there should be a business-like agenda and a definite time of meeting, with a scribe to keep the records, but for its ad hoc meetings none of this is essential although the scribe should try to keep notes as it adds dignity and permanence to the work of the Court of Honor and, in any case, is good training for the scribe—another job which ought to go the rounds.

The Patrol Leaders and their Patrols

Patrol Leaders attend the Court of Honor in their own right, to take their share in guarding the Honor of the Troop and their share of the business and planning for the Troop, but they are also there as representatives of their Patrols. In my experience this latter point is the hardest part of the whole business to get across. Many boys are inclined to selfishness and I am afraid that often only the Patrol Leader's personal point of view is put forward. It is a tremendous opportunity to train a boy in democratic living, to let him learn to represent the Scouts in his Patrol and to put their case even when he personally does not entirely agree with it, to speak on behalf of his Patrol and not merely on his own behalf. There are three great lessons in the art of living which he can absorb through this; one I have referred to already, that of learning to put the case of other people. The second is that of learning to accept success graciously and defeat without rancor, and the third is to go back after he has lost the day and secure the complete loyalty of his Patrol to follow the will of the majority. He will find it difficult to do this and on occasion he may find it unpleasant, but in trying to do it his own character will be strengthened and, after all, that is what it's all about.

It may be that the Owl Patrol in Council has decided that the Troop ought to do a lot more mapping; the Patrol Leader agrees and goes along to the Court of Honor determined to put the case for extended mapping practice so forcibly that all the other Patrol Leaders will agree. Ably as he presents his case it fails to ring the bell and no support is forthcoming; the Court of Honor decides that what is needed is more pioneering. The Patrol Leader of the Owls, who has done a good job but achieved no success, must go back and secure the enthusiastic support of the Owl Patrol for the pioneering in which the Troop is going to engage. Scouting being so delightfully elastic, he can go back and say, "Well, we are going to pioneer with the Troop, but as a Patrol during our own meetings we will get on with the mapping." It is a tremendous thing that he can learn the lessons of success and defeat, can secure loyalty for something they did not much want to do, and still have the courage, enthusiasm and energy to get on and do the things his Patrol wanted to do.

The Court of Honor and the Troop

In the last few paragraphs I have given an indication as to the kind of matters of program the Court of Honor should discuss. It is not their job to provide in detail for every minute of every Troop Meeting; their function is to generalize and to discuss the program after a Troop Meeting. If all the Patrol Leaders know what is going to happen at any given time in a Troop Meeting we are taking away from them a great deal of the fun that grows out of the unknown. Troop Meetings run in a rut are the sure way of blunting enthusiasm. Games and activities of that sort should not be cut and dried so that they become a mere routine. It is entirely right that the Patrol Leaders should discuss past programs, what they liked and did not like, the balance between work and play, and perhaps to say that a certain game run by one of the ASMs was unintelligible and should not be repeated, but this is a very different thing from sitting down and planning a complete schedule covering every item in every Troop Meeting. They should generalize in the way indicated above, to say they want more pioneering or less signaling, more first aid or less map-reading, more time for Patrol Meetings and fewer games, more opportunities for Patrol camps. Whatever the pattern, and providing it is all positive and progressive, the Scouter must accept it and devise ways of bringing the skeleton to life. Having given the Scouters the lead, do be clear that it is up to the Scouters to work out the details, otherwise the whole thing becomes too matter of fact and the surprise and adventure which must grow out of the unknown is taken away.

Rewards and Badges

Now I want to hark right back to the quotation from "Scouting for Boys", this question of rewards and punishments. These are rather old-fashioned words in today's world but, nonetheless, they are sound and worth a moment's thought. The Court of Honor can fulfill a tremendous function in regard to the award of Badges, which are the reward for effort and achievement. The examiner for a badge can deal only with the Scout vis-à-vis the conditions of the particular badge; in other words, the examiner is concerned to know that the Scout can, for instance, signal accurately at the approved rate.  He decides that the Scout can fulfill the requirements of the test or that he cannot do so: what the examiner cannot know is what sort of a Scout the fellow is. Does the boy taking the badge pull his weight in the Patrol, is he a credit to the Troop, is he making a real effort or is he just concerned with his own personal progress? The Court of Honor, as the guardian of the Honor of the Troop and as the body which deals with rewards, should be allowed to say whether or not a particular boy should enter for a badge. In my old Troop no boy ever entered for a badge unless and until the Court of Honor approved. They were concerned as to whether he tried to live up to the Scout Promise and supported his Patrol, etc. If, through your leadership as Scoutmaster, you can get the Court of Honor to accept this function and with your guidance put it into practice you will find a tremendous strengthening of the whole spirit of your Troop.

Patrol Competitions.

Under the general heading of rewards we ought also to include Inter-patrol Competitions and District or possibly County Competitions where one or other of the Patrols in the Troop will be representing the Troop. For a Patrol competition the Court of Honor should decide the general scope of the competition but not all the details, e.g., is it to include inspection, games, attendances, progress in badge work, etc., or is it to be limited to certain specific items of Scouting such as a week-end camp. As with the compilation of the program for a Troop Meeting, the details are the concern of the Scouters, but the generality is the concern of the Court of Honor.

When it comes to one Patrol representing the Troop in a District or County competition it should be the Court of Honor's decision, and the wise Scoutmaster, even if he does not agree with the choice of Patrol, will let the Court of Honor have its way. It is better by far for the wrong Patrol to enter for the competition as the real representative of the Troop than for the best Patrol to enter it at the order of the Scoutmaster.


Time was, in the bad or good old days, whichever way you look at the matter, when the Scoutmaster awarded as punishments such things as spud-peeling, latrine-digging, night-guard, and a whole host of necessary but unexciting fatigues essential to the running of the camp. Through the years we have learned better and we now realize that any job which has to be done for the benefit of the Troop as a whole is not a punishment but is something even more than a duty, for it is a privilege to be allowed to try to do something for the Troop. Once a Court of Honor accepts this point of view, and it is not difficult to get it accepted, we immediately shut the door on the bad idea that work is something meted out as a punishment.

Dismissal of Scouts.

Inevitably there are cases where some form of action is needed. In the last resort the Court of Honor can dismiss a Scout from the Troop, but it should be the last resort. Let it be said, however, that we must never allow the whole Troop to be sacrificed because of the inability of one of its members to conform. I hope that in most Troops the question of dismissing a boy from Scouting seldom arises.

Withdrawal of Privilege.

Nonetheless, there are punishments which from time to time will have to be considered and I hope that the main punishment will be that of depriving the boy of privileges which the good Scout earns.

SM's Guidance.

The Court of Honor will need to be guided skillfully and carefully by the Scoutmaster because boys sitting in judgment upon each other tend to be very cruel; the Scoutmaster must see that mercy tempers justice and he will often find himself in the position of "Devil's Advocate." It is no bad thing to suspend a Scout, particularly from things which it is known he enjoys, but the suspension should not be of long duration, perhaps two Troop Meetings and a weekend camp or something in the nature of an outing.

Valuing Membership.

In the world as it is today all this is of increasing importance. There is a tendency amongst boys to regard their Scouting too cheaply and to fail to understand that privileges carry with them responsibility and that responsibility does not necessarily confer privileges. It is not easy to get all this understood by the Court of Honor, but the Scouters have to try, and it can be done as many Troops prove day by day.

In regard to this matter of punishments perhaps above all others we should be careful that the Court of Honor does meet in secrecy and that its decision is not broadcast to all and sundry in the Troop.

SM's Responsibility.

One last point arises: when it comes to punishment the boy's Scoutmaster must accept full responsibility and must not seek to hide behind the Court of Honor. In effect this means that the Scoutmaster must agree with the decision made by the Court of Honor or, to be more practical, he must be sure that the Court of Honor arrives at the decision he wants them to arrive at.

Standards of Behavior

We are back to this question of guarding the Honor of the Troop. Through the Court of Honor and the example of the Patrol Leaders who form it must be set the highest possible standards in regard to smartness, behavior in public, language, camping, and general efficiency. If once a Court of Honor will accept responsibility in this regard then it is a far more effective way of getting the right spirit in the Troop than any amount of talking and haranguing by the Scoutmaster. Pride of membership is essential to the Scout Movement as a whole and to each individual in a Troop. Every boy should believe that he is in the best Patrol in the best Troop in the whole world. This does not mean that he regards other Troops as less than the dust, but it does mean that he regards them as a little lower than his own Troop and their angelic selves.

Now a word under the various headings of the things I have mentioned:


Pride in uniform; advising recruits to get the best quality they can afford; making sure every boy knows the exact place where each badge is to be put—none of this vague stuff "on the left shoulder" or "on the right-hand pocket." It is the job of the Court of Honor to lay down the standard with exactness and for each individual Patrol Leader to see that his Scouts conform.

Behavior in public

It is not easy to draw the line between high spirits, which are to be encouraged, and being a nuisance to other people, but the line has to be drawn, and it is best drawn by the Court of Honor. In the nature of things most Troops find themselves in the public eye, on public transport, on the move in the streets of the town in which they live, etc. The Court of Honor must set the standard of behavior in town and country, and perhaps particularly in regard to summer camps. For example, the camp hat is an admirable thing in camp and there are few things which delight me more than some fantastic creation which lights up at night, made from an old cushion, with inappropriate mottoes hanging on in positions which defy the laws of gravity, but what a disastrous thing it is to see outside the camp. Scouts do wear camp hats out of camp because in their ignorance they do not know any better and they come from Troops where the Court of Honor has no standard of smartness and the Patrol Leaders are merely boys who wear two stripes because they have been there a little longer.


Few things spread more rapidly amongst a group of boys than does slackness in speech. In the early days of Scouting there was a good old-fashioned remedy: anyone who swore had a cup of cold water down the sleeve, but some fresh air fanatic had the sleeves cut off! We do not want to return to remedies of that sort, but the Court of Honor must be concerned that the Scouts in the Troop try to keep the Tenth Scout Law in speech as well as in deed. The example of the Patrol Leaders is most important. Bad language is a display of ignorance and a poor range of adjectives; instead of using the wonderful compass of the English language every single noun is accompanied by the same adjective. As I have said, this sort of thing can be very catching and it must be dealt with by the Court of Honor immediately there is any sign of it breaking out, and it must be dealt with firmly and definitely and with no argument at all.


Right from the start the Court of Honor must take pride in setting the highest possible standard of camping, not only in technical efficiency but also in regard to courtesy in the countryside, helpfulness to other people and usefulness to other campers. Nothing less than the best will do.

The World-wide Brotherhood.

The live Court of Honor will find out about visiting Scouts and bring them to the Troop.

See Also:

The Court of Honor in Session: An example of COH meeting.







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