High Court of Admiralty

From Naval History Archive
(Redirected from High Court of the Admiralty)
Jump to navigationJump to search
High Court of the Admiralty
Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom from 1837 to 1952.png
Seal of HM Courts
Office overview
Superseding department
JurisdictionEngland Government of the Kingdom of England
Kingdom of Great Britain Government of the Kingdom of Great Britain
United Kingdom Government of the United Kingdom
HeadquartersLondon, England
Office executive
  • President and Judge of the High Court of Admiralty.
Parent OfficeAdmiralty and Marine Affairs Office

The High Court of Admiralty also referred to as the Admiralty Court it was a part of a collective of offices and departments called the Judicial Department emerged as a separate entity probably after the Battle of Sluys in 1340. It was established to deal primarily with questions of piracy or spoil but later developed a jurisdiction in prize and a civil jurisdiction in such matters as salvage and collision, based on Roman or civil law. Actions could be taken against ships and goods as well as against persons. Soon after the restoration in 1660 the civil business of the court divided, with an instance court and a prize court. The criminal side passed to the Central Criminal Court in 1834. When the Supreme Court of Judicature was established in 1875 the civil law business of the court joined the other civil law courts in the creation of the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division of the High Court of Justice.[1]


England's Admiralty Courts date to at least the 1360s, during the reign of Edward III. At that time there were three such Courts, appointed by Admirals responsible for waters to the north, south and west of England. In 1483 these local courts were amalgamated into a single High Court of Admiralty, administered by the Lord High Admiral of England.[2] The Lord High Admiral directly appointed judges to the court, and could remove them at will. This was amended from 1673, with appointments falling within the purview of the Crown, [3] and from 1689 Judges also received an annual stipend and a degree of tenure, holding their positions subject to effective delivery of their duties rather than at the Lord High Admiral's pleasure.[4]

From its inception in 1483 until 1657 the Court sat in a disused church in Southwark, and from then until 1665 in Montjoy House, private premises leased from the Dean of St Paul's Cathedral. In order to escape the Great Plague of London in 1665, the Court was briefly relocated to Winchester and then to Jesus College at Oxford University. The plague threat having subsided by 1666, the Court returned to London and until 1671 was located at Exeter House on The Strand before returning to Montjoy House near St Paul's.[5]

During the period after the French and Indian War, Admiralty Courts became an issue that was a part of the rising tension between the British Parliament and their American Colonies. Starting with the Proclamation of 1763, these courts were given jurisdiction over a number of laws affecting the colonies. The jurisdiction was expanded in later acts of the Parliament, such as the Stamp Act of 1765.

The colonists' objections were based on several factors. The courts could try a case anywhere in the British Empire. Cases involving New York or Boston merchants were frequently heard in Nova Scotia and sometimes even in England. The fact that judges were paid based in part on the fines that they levied and naval officers were paid for bringing "successful" cases led to abuses. There was no trial by jury, and evidence standards were lower than in criminal courts, the latter requiring proof "beyond reasonable doubt". The government's objective was to improve the effectiveness of revenue and excise tax laws. In many past instances, smugglers would avoid taxes. Even when they were caught and brought to trial, local judges frequently acquitted the popular local merchants whom they perceived as being unfairly accused by an unpopular tax collector.

In 1875, the High Court of Admiralty governing England and Wales was absorbed into the new Probate, Divorce and Admiralty (or PDA) Division of the High Court. When the PDA Division was in turn abolished and replaced by the Family Division, the "probate" and "admiralty" jurisdictions were transferred to, respectively, the Chancery Division and to the new "Admiralty Court" (a subset of the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court). Strictly speaking, there was no longer an "Admiralty Court" as such, but the admiralty jurisdiction allocated by the Senior Courts Act 1981 was (and is) exercised by the Admiralty Judge and other Commercial Court judges authorized to sit in Admiralty cases. When these judges sat, it became convenient to call the sitting the "Admiralty Court".

In England and Wales today, Admiralty jurisdiction is exercised by the High Court of Justice in England (EWHC). Admiralty law applied in this court is based upon the civil law-based Law of the Sea, with statutory law and common law additions. The Admiralty court is no longer in the Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand, having moved to the Rolls Building.

Subsidiary Offices of the High Court

From inception of the High Court all court officials were directly appointed by by the High/Lord Admiral until 1673 when appointments were recommended by the government and letters patent issued by the monarch.

Office of the President and Judge of the High Court of Admiralty

  1. President and Judge of the High Court of Admiralty (1483-1875).[6]

Office of the Judge Advocate of the Fleet

  1. Judge Advocate of the Fleet (1663 to 2008).[7]
Office of the Deputy Judge Advocate of the Fleet
  1. Deputy Judge Advocate of the Fleet.[8]

Office of the Admiralty Proctor

  1. Office of the Admiralty Proctor.[9]

Office of the Marshall of the High Court of Admiralty

  1. Marshall of the High Court of Admiralty.[10]

Office of the Droits of the High Court of Admiralty

  1. Droits of the High Court of Admiralty.[11]

Office of the Registrar of the High Court of Admiralty

  1. Registrar of the High Court of Admiralty.[12]

Other Offices of the High Court

Office of the Admiralty Advocate

The Admiralty Advocate was one of the Law Officers of the Crown he represented the Crown in the High Court of Admiralty from 1661 to 1867.

  1. Admiralty Advocate (1661-1867)

Office of the Chief Naval Judge Advocate

  1. Chief Naval Judge Advocate


  1. Sainty, J. C. (1975). "Admiralty Court. British History Online". www.british-history.ac.uk. London: University of London. pp. 95–99. Retrieved 29 June 2019.
  2. Senior, W. (1924). "The Mace of the Admiralty Court". The Mariner's Mirror. 10 (1): 52. doi:10.1080/00253359.1924.10655256.
  3. Sainty 1975, p.95. p.131
  4. Sainty 1975, p.95. p.131
  5. Wiswall 1970, p.77
  6. Sainty. pp.95-99.
  7. Sainty. pp.95-99.
  8. Sainty. pp.95-99.
  9. Sainty. pp.95-99.
  10. Sainty. pp.95-99.
  11. Sainty. pp.95-99.
  12. Sainty. pp.95-99.


  1. 'Admiralty court', in Office-Holders in Modern Britain: Volume 4, Admiralty Officials 1660-1870, ed. J C Sainty (London, 1975), pp. 95-99. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/office-holders/vol4/pp95-99 [accessed 29 June 2019].
  2. Meeson, Nigel; Kimbell, John (2011). Admiralty Jurisdiction and Practice (4th ed.). London: Informa Law & Finance. ISBN 9781843119432.
  3. Sainty, J.C. (1975). Office-holders in Modern Britain: Admiralty Officials 1660-1870. London: Athlone Press. ISBN 0485171449.
  4. Senior, W. (1924). "The Mace of the Admiralty Court". The Mariner's Mirror. 10 (1): 52. doi:10.1080/00253359.1924.10655256.
  5. Wiswall, F. L. (1970). The Development of Admiralty Jurisdiction and Practice Since 1800. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521077516.