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CHAPTER 1 Introduction

Admiralty Jurisdiction and Practice

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Historical origins

1.1 Today the Admiralty Court is simply part of the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court1 but for many years it had a separate existence, its own court buildings near St. Paul’s cathedral and its own specially trained cadre of advocates.2 The emergence of the Admiralty Court as a distinct jurisdiction has been traced to the period between the years 1340 and 1357.3 It is thought to have come into being because of difficulties experienced by domestic courts in dealing with international piracy claims.4 The practice and procedure of the Admiralty Court is not founded on common law principles but on civil law concepts as developed and adapted by the civilian practitioners of the College of Advocates and Doctors of Law.5 It was not until 1859 that common law barristers and solicitors were even permitted to appear in the Admiralty Court.6 Prior to 1859, the Admiralty Court had been the exclusive preserve of the civilian practitioners (called proctors and advocates to distinguish themselves from the solicitors and barristers of the common law courts). The advocates were members of the College of Advocates and Doctors of Law, more usually referred to by the name of the place of the building which housed the court, its registry and its practitioners, Doctors’ Commons.7 Doctors’ Commons housed the High Court of Admiralty from 1664 to 1860, when it moved to Westminster Hall. It was only after 18618 that it

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became clear that the Admiralty Court was a court of record.9 The old High Court of Admiralty ceased to exist on 2 November 1875 pursuant to the Judicature Acts 1873 and 1875.10 Accounts of the history of the Court are to be found in various sources.11 A good general overview of the history of the Admiralty Court is set out in the Introduction to the 5th edition of Roscoe’s Admiralty Jurisdiction and Practice.12 A detailed account of the development of Admiralty jurisdiction and practice after 1800 (a crucial period in the development of the Court) is contained in Dr Wiswall’s book of that name.13 The present work is, however, concerned only with Admiralty jurisdiction and practice at the present time.

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