Report No. 151
2.5. Position in India.-
So far as India is concerned, Admiralty jurisdiction is being exercised only by some of the Indian High Courts as the matter is still governed by the obsolete English Admiralty Court Act of 1861, initially applied to India by the (English) Colonial Courts of Admiralty Act, 1890, and then adopted by India by Colonial Courts of Admiralty (India) Act (16 of 1891)1. So far as criminal offences in Admiralty jurisdiction were concerned, the provision of the Admiralty Offences (Colonial) Act, 1849 were extended to India but with power only to the Supreme Court2 to try them. This was done by the Admiralty Jurisdiction (India) Act, 18603.
1. Sea Civil Court Manual, 4th Edn., pp. 882-3. This Act declared the High Courts at Bombay, Calcutta and Madras to be Colonial Courts of Admiralty.
2. These were the Supreme Courts at Bombay, Calcutta and Madras.
3. Extracts from these two enactments are set out in the Appendix.
2.6. After the Supreme Court Judicature Act, 1773, was passed in England, a number of Acts relating to Admiralty Jurisdiction were passed by the Indian Legislature from time to time with the result, the law became increasingly difficult to be referred to and the need for consolidation become very pressing. Though several attempts were made, all attempts failed, owing to legal and constitutional difficulties. Two of the principal contributory factors were; the limited powers of the Indian Legislature to legislate regarding shipping, and the fact that part of the British Statute Law on the subject applied to India and any Indian enactment had to be in harmony with that law.
An attempt was made in 1921-22 to codify the Indian Law on merchant shipping by the Statute Law Revision Committee, which decided that only consolidation and not revision should be attempted immediately. The result was the Indian Merchant Shipping Act, 1923, which repealed as many as 30 Acts (mentioned in the Schedule to the Act). The said Act has also been amended from time to time and replaced by the Merchant Shipping Act (44 of 1958) specially to implement the provisions of international conventions which have been ratified by India.
The object of the 1958 Act is mainly to foster the development in a manner best suited to serve the national interest and for that purpose to establish a National Shipping Board and a Shipping Development Fund, to provide for the registration of Indian ships and generally to amend and consolidate the law relating to merchant shipping.
Though Parts X, XA, and XB of the Act refer to collisions, accidents at sea and liability for oil pollution, the problem of 'Admiralty Jurisdiction' is left unresolved and is still governed by various erstwhile British Acts which, by reason of Article 372 of the Constitution, still continue to be in force in India, despite the fact that some of them (like the Act of 1861), have already been repealed in England. Thus, on 'Admiralty Jurisdiction' it is the British Admiralty Courts Act of 1840 and 1861 which provide the statutory base though since then a number of International Conventions have also come up on the subject.