ADMIRALTY COURTS are courts which have jurisdiction over maritime causes, whether of a civil or criminal nature. In England, the Court of Ad miralty is held before the Lord High Admiral or his deputy, who is called the judge of the court: when there was a Lord High Admiral, the judge of the Admiralty usually held his place by patent from him; but when the office of admiral is executed by commissioners, he holds his place by direct commission from the crown under the great seal.
The Court of Admiralty is twofold,— the Instance Court and the Prize Court. The commissions to hold these courts are perfectly distinct, but are usually given to the same person. Neither of them is a Court of Record.
The civil jurisdiction of the Instance Court extends generally to marine con tracts, that is, to such contracts as are made upon the sea, and are founded in maritime service or consideration,—as where the vessel is pledged during the voyage for necessary repairs ; and to some few others, which, though entered into on land, are executed entirely upon the sea,—such as agreements fi r mariner's wages. But if part of a cause of action arises on the sea and part upon the land, the courts of common law exclude the Admiralty Court from its jurisdiction ; and even in contracts made abroad they exercise in most cases a concurrent juris diction. The Admiralty Court has no cognizance of contracts under seal, except where, from the nature of the subject matter, it has exclusive jurisdiction • as in the case of an hypothecation bond, under which a ship is given in pledge for necessaries furnished to the master and mariners. This security, as it only affects the vessel on which the money is ad vanced, and imposes no personal contract on the borrower, does not fall within the cognizance of the common law. The Instance Court likewise regulates many other points of maritime law, such as disputes between part-owners of vessels, and questions relating to salvage, that is, the allowance made to those who have saved or recovered ships or goods from dangers of the sea. It has also power to inquire into certain wrongs or injuries committed on the high seas, such as col lision, or the running foul of one ship i against another, and in such cases to assess the damages to be paid to the party injured.
This court is usually held at Doctors'.
Commons, like the ecclesiastical courts, to which, in its general constitution, it bears a great resemblance. The law by which its proceedings are governed is composed of such parts of the civil law as treat of maritime affairs, together with the laws of Oleron and other maritime laws, with such corrections, alterations or amendments as have been introduced by Acts of Parliament, or usage which has received the sanction of legal decisions. (Blackstone, Commentaries, iii. 68, 106.) In criminal matters the Court of Ad miralty has, partly by common law, partly by a variety of statutes, cognizance of piracy and all other indictable offences committed either upon the sea or on the coasts, when beyond the limits of any English county; and this (at least since the time of Edward III.) to the exclusion of the jurisdiction of the courts of com mon law. With respect to certain felonies, committed in the main stream of great rivers below the bridges, the common law and the Admiralty have a concurrent jurisdiction.
The mode of proceeding in the Ad miralty courts iu criminal trials, like that in all other suits there, was anciently according to the course of the civil and maritime law, until, in the reign of Henry VIII., a statute was passed which enacted that these offences should be tried by commissioners of oyer and terminer under the king's great seal, and that the proceedings should be according to the law of the laud. (Blackstone, Commen taries, iv. 268; Hale, Pleas et' the Crown, ii. 16.) By 7 & 8 Geo. IV. c. 28, all offences tried in the Court of Admiralty are to be punished in the same manner as if committed on land. (§ 12). A similar provision is introduced in 9 Geo. IV. c. 31, for consolidating and amending the law relating to offences against the per son. (§ 32). In the act for establishing the Central Criminal Court in London (4 Wm. IV. c. 36), the judges are em powered to determine offences committed within the jurisdiction of the Admiralty of England, and to deliver the gaol of Newgate of any person committed for any such offence. (§ 22). The Admiralty sessions are held twice a year, in March and October, at the Old Bailey. The judge of the Admiralty presides, and two of the common law judges sit with him. The proceedings do not usually occupy more than three or four days in the year.