The origins of the Admiralty Court in England can be traced back to the middle of the fourteenth century. Its origin has been linked to Edward III’s naval success at the battle of Sluys in 1340. The principal function of the court appears to have been to keep the king’s peace upon the sea and to deal with piracy.
The High Court of Admiralty developed its own distinct procedures and practices. It had a specialist group of solicitors (called proctors) and its advocates were educated in Civil Law not the common law. The advocates of the Admiralty Court were members of the College of Advocates and Doctors of Law. They practised from Doctors’ Commons, a set of buildings on Knightrider Street situated between St Paul’s cathedral and the north bank of the Thames.
Doctors’ Commons resembled a modern Inn of Court in that it contained a library, a dining hall and rooms from which lawyers practised but in addition it contained its own court where the Admiralty Judge sat. Solicitors and barristers trained in the common law were not permitted to handle claims in the Admiralty Court. The College of Advocates was wound up in 1865 and the High Court of Admiralty became part of the unified High Court in 1875. However, the tradition of having a specialist Admiralty Judge and a specialist Admiralty Bar has continued to this day. Today the Admiralty Court is part of the Queen’s Bench Division and is housed in the Rolls Building on Fetter Lane in London. Claims in the Admiralty Court are dealt with by one or other of its two judges: the Admiralty Judge and the Admiralty Registrar. The arrest and release of ships is handled by the Admiralty Marshal. The procedure of the Admiralty Court is set out in Part 61 of the Civil Procedure Rules (and associated Practice Direction) and in section N of the Admiralty and Commercial Courts Guide.
Admiralty Law is the name given to the substantive and procedural law which applies to claims which fall within the jurisdiction of the Admiralty Court. These claims are now listed in section 20 of the Senior Courts Act 1981. They include claims arising from damage done by a ship, claims arising from collisions between ships, claims by shipowners or operators to limit their liability, ownership claims between shipowners and salvage claims. Claims falling within the jurisdiction of the Admiralty Court are often dealt with in London arbitration under the auspices of the Arbitration Act 1996. This is especially true of salvage claims and collision claims.
The Admiralty Judge
The Admiralty Judge is the senior of the two judges of the Admiralty Court. The present Admiralty Judge is Sir Nigel Teare. When the Admiralty Court is sitting it is sometimes assisted by specialist assessors with maritime qualifications and experience, who are members of Trinity House.
The Admiralty Oar
The symbol of the Admiralty Court is the Admiralty Oar. This is traditionally displayed in court when a trial is in progress.
The Admiralty Registrar
The Admiralty Registrar hears many of the interlocutory applications in the Admiralty Court and deals with the assessment of damage in collision claims. The Registrar also deals with the initial case management of all Admiralty claims. The Admiralty Registrar has all the powers of the Admiralty Judge save as expressly provided otherwise in statute or court rules. The present Admiralty Registrar is Jervis Kay Q.C. The Admiralty Registrar’s room is located in Room E.111 in the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand.
The Admiralty Marshal
The Admiralty Marshal is a member of the court staff who works under the direction of the Admiralty Registrar and the Admiralty Judge. The Admiralty Marshal deals with ship arrests and the release of ships from arrest.
Admiralty Court Committee
The Admiralty Court Committee is a forum for contact and consultation between the Admiralty Court and its users. It has for some years not met regularly but this is due to change in 2017.
Admiralty Solicitors’ Group
The Admiralty Solicitors’ Group (www.admiraltysolicitorsgroup.com) is the counterpart of the Admiralty Bar Group. It represents the interests of solicitors practising Admiralty Law in England.