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Report No. 151

Chapter 8

Nature and Scope of Admiralty Jurisdiction

8.1. It is not necessary to emphasise, over again, the archaic state of the Indian Law on the subject and its inadequacies. Luckily, as pointed out at the very outset, complete chaos in the matter was averted by the laws of transition passed in India when there was a change in the political set-up in the country. Even this is almost on the point of breakdown by the denial of admiralty jurisdiction to many of the High Courts on the one hand and the attempt to limit Indian jurisprudence to the pre-1891 Statute and case law in England. But for the far-sighted and liberal view taken by the Supreme Court in Elizabeth's case, JT 1992 (2) SC 65, the Indian law on the subject might have almost lapsed into regions of ludicrousness and absurdity.

8.2. Though the general position has got crystallised and become somewhat definite after the pronouncement of the Supreme Court, it is necessary to enact independent legislation to replace the century old statutes on the scope and extent of Admiralty jurisdiction.

8.3. Turning to the contents of such legislation, our task has been made comparatively easy by the legislations recently introduced in U.K.1. The Parveen Singh Committee which felt the need for such legislation all the more in the absence of the guidance of the Supreme Court had taken pains to consider the UK. Legislation as well as those introduced in Singapore and other countries and drafted the Admiralty Act, annexed to its report2.

The Commission have referred, in the previous Chapter, to the various improvements and additions which the above Committee considered necessary to meet our country's needs. Its draft is based primarily on the Supreme Court Act, 1981 of U.K. and it has taken into account the aspects and features which the Committee felt needed special reference or provision.

1. There appears to have been similar legislation in Singapore and other countries but it is perhaps unnecessary to consider them in view of the fullness of the UK Legislation.

2. And this report as well, as Annexure I to III.

8.4. In regard to the various questions raised by the Ministry of Law at an earlier stage in its correspondence with the Ministry of Surface Transport and referred to earlier1, we would like to make the following observations:

(1) The causes in respect of which admiralty jurisdiction can be extended have, been most comprehensively set out in the proposed statute, in the light of the 1981 Act of U.K. and other recent legislations. It does not seem necessary to add any other causes in the proposed section 2.

(2) In regard to the query as to whether there should be separate enactments on the scope of Admiralty jurisdiction and on the courts empowered to administer it, we are of the view that no such separate enactments are necessary, for the reasons contained in the next Chapter. Briefly, we are of opinion that for the present Admiralty Jurisdiction should be vested in High Courts and that all High Courts in India should be vested with such jurisdiction.

But, if at some subsequent stage, it is found that Admiralty Jurisdiction should be conferred on other Courts, steps may be taken for conferring this jurisdiction on the Principal Civil Court of the District. This can be given effect to by an amendment of sections 1 and 2(a) of the draft Admiralty Act of India proposed by the Committee and dispensing with the Admiralty Courts Act proposed by the Committee altogether.

(3) On the question as to whether 'hovercraft' should be covered by the proposed enactment, we think that the answer should be in the negative for the time being. The U.K. Supreme Courts Act, 1981, no doubt defines a "Ship" as including a "hovercraft"2 as well. But this is subject to the provisions of the Hovercraft Act, 1968 which render the application of the legislation liable to the excluded or modified by an Order in Council.

Moreover, the regulation of hovercraft will have impact not only on the legislation pertaining to carriage of goods by sea but also on legislations pertaining to carriage by air and even on road traffic legislation. India has no legislation corresponding to the Hovercraft Act, 1968 of England. These aspects need further examination and we, therefore, do not think it appropriate to include "Hovercraft" part of Admiralty Law for the present. This can be easily done at a later stage if found necessary.

(4) It is true that the continued application of U.K. Admiralty Act, 1861 should be scrapped and the Colonial Courts of Admiralty (Indian) Act, 1890 the Colonial Admiralty Jurisdiction Act, 1891 will have to be repealed. This can be done by the addition of a provision in the draft legislation prepared by the Committee on the lines indicated later. The Admiralty Offences (Colonial) Act, 1849 and the Admiralty Jurisdiction (India) Act, 1890 have to be repealed also but it is necessary to add a provision in the proposed legislation confer ring jurisdiction in respect of admiralty offences.

(5) The decision of the Supreme Court in Elizabeth's case, JT 1992 (2) SC 65 "does not call for any changes in the proposed legislation. The Merchant Shipping Act, 1958 and the Carriage by Air Act, 1925 may require amendments in the light of the observations made in paras 81 and 82 of the judgment. This can be considered separately later when these enactments are taken up for consideration.

1. See Chapter 7, ante.

2. "Hovercraft" means a vehicle which is designed to be supported when in motion wholly or partly by air expelled from the vehicle to form a cushion of which the boundaries include the ground, water or other surface beneath the vehicle: section 4(1) of U.K. Hovercraft Act, 1968.

8.5. From the above discussions, it will be clear that the enactment of legislation by Parliament in the field of admiralty law is imperative both as a matter of prestige and as a matter of necessity. India is now an independent nation and it does not be have its sovereignty that a British Statute enacted a century and more ago should govern its maritime law.

Also, with vast expansion in India's maritime trade and commerce in recent years, with clear prospects of their further expansion in the coming years consequent on liberalisation of its economic policies and the emergence of trade as a global phenomenon, this branch of the law will assume greater importance in coming years and it is necessary and desirable that it should be covered by specific Indian legislation. We, therefore, agree with the Parveen Singh Committee that an attempt should be made to draft such legislation.

8.6. As pointed out earlier, this task is to a large extent, rendered easy by the existence of recent U.K. legislation1 on the topic. The maritime law administered in this country has been based on the English law all along and it is also that law which has to a considerable extent influenced the law administered all over the world. It will, therefore, be not only expedient but also natural that our proposed legislation should be substantially based on the legislation in U.K., but with improvements and additions necessary to meet our needs. After considering the provisions of the U.K. Act and the legislation suggested by the Parveen Singh Committee, we have prepared a draft Admiralty Act which is appended to this report as Annexure VIII.

1. U.K. Supreme Court Act, 1981.

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