Saturday, 31 July 2010

A brief look at one of the specialist branches of the law - Admiralty

English law has many specialist branches and, as an island nation, a system of courts developed to deal with disputes arising from shipping.  These courts were known as Admiralty Courts and dealt with matters such as collisions at sea, cargo, chartering of vessels and marine insurance.  In the late Victorian period the court structure was reformed by the Judicature Acts 1873-75 which created the High Court of Justice and brought within that court a considerable variety of jurisdiction previously dealt with by separate courts such as Admiralty and, from the ecclesiastical courts, probate and divorce.

Today, the High Court Queen's Bench Division has within it some specialist courts: the Administrative Court; the Admiralty Court; Technology and Construction Court and the Commercial Court.

Each year there is a small number of Admiralty cases heard in the High Court.  Also, certain County Courts have some Admiralty jurisdiction.  A recent Admiralty Court case was concerned with a collision between two ships and the apportionment of the losses - see here.  The judgment of David Steel J extends to just 33 paragraphs and is a model of succinctness and clarity.  The Judge sat with Captain Derek Richards, an Elder Brother of Trinity House, who acted as Nautical Assessor and advised the Judge on matters such as seamanship and navigation.  The use of an assessor in the High Court is unusual and is a feature of the Admiralty jurisdiction.  It helps to reduce reliance on expert witnesses.  Could it be usefully adopted in other areas?

See also Careers at Sea and the Merchant Navy Training Board
Law Careers - Admiralty
The Honourable Company of Master Mariners


  1. Judicature Acts 1973-75
    I didn't know the Victorian period lasted that long. :)

  2. Conor - thank you. I have put the typo right !!