HL Deb 05 March 1861 vol 161 cc1394-7

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


in moving the second reading of this Bill said, it was one of very considerable importance to the commercial marine of this country. The Bill was one for enlarging the jurisdiction and improving the procedure of the High Court of Admiralty, which had now become one of the most important tribunals in the country for the determination of civil causes. Within the last three years no less than 1,618 causes had been determined, whilst the value of the claims involved amounted to £1,576,841. The Court was presided over by that most learned and able Judge, Dr. Lushington, and it was with his concurrence that the Bill was introduced. The first great improvement which the Bill proposed was to give the Court of Admiralty jurisdiction over claims for necessaries supplied to any ship elsewhere than in the port to which the ship belongs, unless it be shown to the satisfaction of the Court that at the time of the institution of the cause, any owner, or part owner, of the ship was domiciled in England or Wales. In the next place the Bill removed a restriction which was felt to be most inconvenient, especially in the case of ships trading with America. If a ship sailed from Liverpool to America, and if the cargo were damaged, the consignee had his remedy against the ship; but that was not so in the case of an American ship sailing from New York to Liverpool. There the shipowner had a right to insist on the full freight being paid, the consignee's remedy being an action for damages in the Courts of America. It was, therefore, proposed that henceforward there should be this remedy against foreign shipowners, that where a cargo was damaged the Court of Admiralty should have jurisdiction over any claim by the owner, or consignee, or assignee of any bill of lading of any goods carried into any port of England or Wales in any ship for damage done to the goods by the negligence or misconduct of the owner, master, or crew of the ship. In the next place, the Bill extended the provisions of "The Merchant Shipping Act, 1854," in regard to salvage of life to the case of any British ship wheresoever the service may be rendered, and in the case of foreign vessels where the services have been rendered in British waters. Many of the powers confided to other Courts by the Merchant Shipping Act were now to be conferred upon the Admiralty Court, which is constituted a court of record, and its decrees and orders are to have the effect of judgments at common law; and the Common Law Procedure Acts as regards evidence, inspection, and admission of documents, service and other powers are also extended to this Court. A power of appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in interlocutory matters was given; but no appeal from any order or decree of the Court was allowed, except upon questions of law. That clause was introduced on his own judgment, but he was not disposed to insist on its being retained in the Bill. It had been proposed in some quarters to alter the mode of trial in the Court of Admiralty, and to introduce trial by jury; but he must say he was himself entirely opposed to the change. No one had a higher opinion of the institution of trial by jury than he had; but he thought cases of this kind would be more dispassionately and satisfactorily disposed of by the Judge with the assistance of the Elder Brethren of the Trinity House than by a jury.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a


agreed with the Lord Chancellor in holding that the introduction of trial by jury into the Admiralty Court would be injudicious. He agreed, also, that there ought to be no appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council except on matters of law. At present the Judge of the Admiralty Court was assisted by two nautical persons, and the witnesses might be examined vivâ voce. The Judicial Committee were also assisted by two other nautical men, but they had no power of examining witnesses, and could not judge of the value of the evidence by their demeanour. He, therefore, did not see any probability of the Appeal Court arriving at a better conclusion than the original tribunal. As the Bill stood, there was a right of appeal on all interlocutory proceedings with the consent of the Judge, and he suggested that an appeal on matters of fact should not be allowed unless the Judge thought fit to authorize it.


said, that in the great majority of cases the proceedings in the Admiralty Court were carried on by depositions, and in 99 out of every 100 collision cases the plaintiff was sure to gain. He should like to know the number of appeals in collision cases, and in how many instances the decree of the Admiralty Court had been reversed. The questions involved were often of great importance to the litigant parties; the evidence was generally contradictory, the points were frequently of a technical and professional nature, and he thought that the commercial classes would view with alarm any proposal to abolish appeals on matters of fact altogether.


said, he had always held it to be necessary that in all proceedings, in order to secure the fullest and most deliberate investigation, there should be a Court of Appeal, which should, when necessary, review the decision of the Courts below, and settle the law. This was more particularly necessary in regard to the Court of Admiralty. No one could bear stronger testimony to the ability and care displayed by the learned Judge who presided over this Court, but it was impossible altogether to avoid mistakes. Those who supported this Amendment scarcely understood the mode of procedure in the Court. It would, fact, be utterly impossible to carry out the Bill as it stood now without altering the whole procedure of the Court. There was always great contradiction in the evidence, and when, after considerable difficulty, it had been settled what the facts of the case were, and their bearing had been explained, the Judge retired with the nautical assessors, consulted with them apart, and then returned and gave judgment at once, without stating which particular facts had been found and which had not. It was impossible, with such a procedure to separate facts from law, or to say which were matters of law, of fact, or of seamanship, and to confine the power of appeal to matters of law would be in effect to stop appeals altogether. Unless the Bill was altered, therefore, it would be necessary to alter the procedure of the Court. But the object of any Amendment of the law should be to secure the proper investigation of matters coming before the Court.

After a few words from the Earl of Powis,


said, he wished it to be generally known that the clause taking away the right of appeal was not suggested by the learned Judge of the Court, who would most willingly allow his decisions to be reviewed. The suggestion was his own; but he had become a convert to the opinions which had been expressed in the course of this discussion. He would, therefore, in Committee move that the clause restricting the ground of appeal be struck out, so that things would remain as they are.

Motion agreed to.

Bill read 2a accordingly; and committed to a Committee of the whole House on Tuesday next.

House adjourned at a quarter past Six o'clock, to Thursday next, Half-past Ten o'clock.