High Court

The Admiralty Court exercises a wide jurisdiction over admiralty matters and can hear cases on claims as diverse as ownership, mortgages, damage done by or to a ship, cargo damage, personal injury and death involving ships; salvage, towage, pilotage, general average, wages and marine pollution damage. Maritime law has long allowed a plaintiff to proceed not only in personam for example against a shipowner but also in rem which is against the thing itself such as the ship. The jurisdiction of the Admiralty Court in rem is very wide. For instance in collision cases it can be exercised against the ship wherever the collision occurred and whatever the nationality of its owner. The other two divisions of the High Court are the Family Division and the Chancery Division which hears tax cases; trusts; probate and wills. The Court of Appeal may hear any appeal from the High Court. The losing party may apply of right – either on the grounds that the trial judge was wrong in law or on facts. In practice, however, appeals are expensive and a party should think carefully before deciding to appeal. It should also be noted that in reality it is usually only appeals on a question of law which will be successful as the Court of Appeal is usually unwilling to overturn a trial judge’s decision on facts.  Three judges normally sit on appeals. This is England’s highest (supreme) court and an appeal to the House of Lords is heard by judges called Lords of Appeal in Ordinary – or ‘Law Lords’. Additionally, the Lord Chancellor may sit, and at times retired Law Lords may be drafted in. Unlike the Lower Courts, there is no functional division between civil and criminal cases. There is no Right of Appeal to the House of Lords; permission must be granted, either from the House of Lords or the Court of Appeal. This will only be given where the case involves an issue of public importance. The House of Lords is the ultimate Court of Appeal for domestic law. Cases involving a question of interpretation regarding European law must be referred to the European Court.