Maritime Admiralty Law: A Short History
By Anna Henningsgaard
Maritime law is a legal body that regulates ships and shipping. As sea-borne
transportation is one of the most ancient channels of commerce, rules for
maritime and trade disputes developed very early in recorded history. Modern
admiralty law, often called simply admiralty or maritime law, has its origins in
the classical Rhodian law. No primary written specimen of the Rhodian law has
survived, but it is alluded to in Roman and Byzantine legal codes as well as the
customs of the Hanseatic League, the dominant trading power of the Middle Ages
and Early Modern eras.
While traveling the eastern Mediterranean on the Crusades with her first
husband, King Louis VII of France, Eleanor of Aquitaine discovered a complicated
and advanced system of admiralty law. She brought back this admiralty law and
administered it upon her people on the island of Oleron. Later, while acting as
regent for her son King Richard the Lionheart in England she founded the British
system of admiralty law. In England, special admiralty courts handle all
admiralty cases. The courts do not use the common law of England.
In this same way, admiralty or maritime law is distinct from standard land-based
laws even today. Even within another country’s claimed waters, admiralty law
states that a ship’s flag dictates the law. This means that a Canadian ship in
American waters would be subject to Canadian law and crimes committed on board
that ship would stand trial in Canada. In the United States the Supreme Court is
the highest court of appeals for admiralty cases, though they rarely progress
beyond the state level. United States, admiralty law is of limited jurisdiction,
so it is up to the judges to assign verdicts based on a combination of admiralty
and specific state law.
Because admiralty law is such a complicated set of laws, with a rich history and
specific cases and implementation, many lawyers focus specifically on the field
of admiralty law. If you have a case that falls into this category, your regular
personal attorney may not be able to help. The specific circumstances of
admiralty jurisdiction make it prudent, and perhaps necessary, that you hire a
specific admiralty lawyer.
If you have more questions, contact a maritime lawyer or read maritime law press
releases at http://www.hugesettlements.com.