A military panel has been unable to reach a verdict in the case of a Navy commander accused of groping the backside of a subordinate.

After more nearly five hours of deliberation, the panel of three senior officers could not agree on whether a charge of indecent assault had been proven.

Judge Charles Blackie discharged the panel and deferred to the director of military prosecutions as to whether there would be a repeat hearing.

The court martial began on Monday at Devonport Naval Base after an incident at the base's bar following a dinner on the HMNZS Canterbury on May 17, 2012.


A female lieutenant claimed a commander, whom she had known for more than a decade, grabbed her buttocks up to five times over the course of the evening.

He was subsequently charged with indecent assault and both parties were granted name suppression.

Defence counsel major Peter Brock said the groping was completely denied by the defendant.

"He did not grab her, or slap her or touch her on the buttocks," he said.

"Someone may have; he doesn't know that. But it wasn't him."

On the night in question, the commander was responsible for the smooth running of the function and was looking after other military top brass in attendance.

Major Brock said the allegations therefore made no sense.

"It's patently implausible a senior member of the Navy . . . and host of a VIP would do something like this," he said.

But prosecutor Chris Griggs called it a case "about a failure of leadership and comradeship".

"It's about a senior officer . . . who abused his authority who indecently assaulted a junior officer at a social event."

Mr Griggs accepted the nature of the assault was at the lower end of the scale but it was significantly aggravated by the alleged repetition of the act and the disparity in rank.

"The accused's actions were a fundamental betrayal of the trust that must exist between men and women that serve in a modern defence force," Mr Griggs said.

"It strikes to the heart of what it means to be a leader."

At the start of the week the lieutenant told the court about what happened in the bar.

"The first one was quite a deep feel. The other smaller ones were pinches I guess," she said.

She told the court she was sure the defendant was the one responsible.

"There wasn't anybody else behind me . . . there wasn't anybody else that acknowledged I turned around," she said.

"I said 'hey' . . . he gave me a sly look back and a laugh."