chapter  1
16 Pages



Whether or not the admiralty jurisdiction in England originated from Saxon times, or from the times of Henry I, the authority of the Crown to administer justice in respect of piracy or spoil and other offences committed upon the sea was undisputed by the reign of Edward III.1 The High Court of Admiralty was an instrument of the Lord High Admiral and had jurisdiction to hear all offences and disputes within the Admiral’s jurisdiction. The judge of the court was a deputy of the Lord High Admiral. This jurisdiction was separate from that of the common law courts. However, apart from possessing criminal jurisdiction, the Admiral began, gradually, to hear disputes also in all civil matters connected with the sea. This resulted in usurping the jurisdiction of the common law courts in matters arising in inland tidal waters.2 The encroachment of the Admiral’s jurisdiction upon the common law courts’ jurisdiction caused indignation and became intolerable to common law lawyers in the 13th and 14th centuries. The authority of the Admiral to determine disputes involving seizure at sea was denied by the Common Pleas in 1296.3 Later a statutory restriction of the Admiral’s jurisdiction was obtained by the Admiralty Jurisdiction Act 1389,4 in the reign of Richard II. In addition, by the subsequent statute, the Admiralty Jurisdiction Act 1391, matters of contracts, pleas and quarrels, which arose within the body of a county, whether on land or water, were removed from the jurisdiction of the Lord Admiral and were only triable in common law courts.5