Rama

Admiralty jurisdiction under ss 20 – 24 of the Supreme Court Act 1981 lies in respect of actions either in personam or in rem. The types of claim or dispute (s 20 (1)) within this jurisdiction are set out and defined in s 20 (2) of the Act. So, for example, in The Eschersheim (1976) Lord Diplock had to consider the meaning of the words ‘agreement relating to the use or hire of a ship’ and ‘damage done by a ship’ under (in force at the time) the Administration of Justice Act 1956. The House of Lords held that a salvage agreement related to ‘the use or hire of a ship’, that ship being a tug. (The tug having beached the ship on the north coast of Spain after towing her from a collision in the Bay of Biscay. After fruitless attempts by the salvors to rescue her, she became a total loss.) There was also a claim for ‘damage done by a ship’, although the tug was only an instrument in taking the ship to the shore. Lord Diplock said that there were no grounds for giving a restricted meaning to these two provisions under the Act. Accordingly, the claims were within the terms of s 1 of the 1956 Act and the High Court had jurisdiction to determine them. In The Rama (1996) Clarke J said that the crucial aspect of Lord Diplock’s words was that, not only must damage be the direct result of acts done by those engaged in the navigation of the ship but also the ship must be the ‘actual instrument’ by which the damage was done. It was not, however, said Clarke J, sufficient for the ship to have been used in some way as means of causing damage.