The Difference Between Maritime And Common Law

Did you know that your maritime lawyer must be conscious of maritime and common law when dealing with maritime disputes? Since law courts were first established in England, judges have relied on common law to settle maritime disputes. And this trend has continued to today. However, there is a lack of uniformity in how admiralty law courts apply maritime and common law doctrines to settle maritime disputes. Therefore, if you’re involved in a maritime dispute, you need to understand the difference between maritime and common law. This knowledge will help you better understand how applying these two law doctrines influences court rulings.
However, before we delve into the differences between maritime and common law, let’s first define these two law doctrines.

What Is Common Law?

Common law is a concept that originated in England during the early days of England’s law court. Common law is a body of unwritten laws established through court decisions.
In the early days of the English court, there were no law statutes that could make court decisions. Therefore, judges had to rely on their interpretation of justice to make decisions. However, they recorded their decisions to avoid inconsistency. These decisions resulted in a system of complex laws.
Common law is an ever-evolving field of law. There are situations where a court ruling will decide a precedent was incorrect and is no longer applicable. Therefore, legislatures were formed to establish and pass laws to avoid this inconsistency.
So, today common law is mainly applied in cases where the court can’t apply the existing statutes or rules of law to decide an outcome.

What Is Maritime Law?

Maritime law is a body of law that applies to shipping vessels and maritime trade and commerce. Maritime law was created to promote and protect the interests of maritime trade and commerce.
Before the development of maritime law, local English courts handled maritime disputes. However, sea traders became disgruntled with court decisions made by juries without maritime experience and who were easily influenced by local issues and politics. And to solve this problem, an admiralty court was established. After the United States gained independence from Britain, the United States admiralty courts were created under federal jurisdiction.
The United States has its maritime law. However, these laws consist of general maritime principles widely accepted by other countries engaging in maritime trade and commerce.
The scope of maritime law is large. It deals with issues related to private boats, disputes arising from maritime contracts, and crimes committed on American territorial waters or crimes committed on American vessels or against American citizens.

Is Maritime Law Similar To Admiralty Law?

You will often find people interchangeably using the terms, “maritime law” and “admiralty law.” However, it’s correct to refer to admiralty law as a subset of maritime law.
Admiralty law is best described as ‘maritime common law.’ Admiralty law has evolved from decisions made by judges who referred to civil law and common law to set up the standards used to solve maritime issues.
On the other hand, maritime law combines international agreements, admiralty law, and the federal government’s maritime statutes and regulations to address maritime disputes. The federal government created maritime statutes and regulations to address maritime issues such as maritime insurance and vessel mortgages that weren’t traditionally recognized by admiralty law.

What Are The Differences Between Maritime And Common Law?

The main difference between maritime and common is in the scope of the two laws. Maritime law deals with shipping vessels and maritime trade and commerce issues. In most cases, maritime law often deals with disputes involving the ownership of shipping vessels and their cargo. Common law is applicable in many legal fields, both on land and water.
The second difference is in the nature of maritime and common law. Maritime law comprises a mixture of admiralty law (maritime common law), law statutes passed by the federal government, and international agreements (since maritime trade and commerce involve many countries). Common law is a law system that relies on past court decisions to make a precedent that is used to try future cases with similar issues. The case’s outcome doesn’t rely on written laws or statutes when using common law.
Another difference between maritime and common law is how the cases are tried. Common law requires the presence of a jury to make an impartial verdict. However, maritime law requires admiralty law courts to try maritime cases without the presence of a jury.
In maritime law, it’s common for shipping vessels to receive the status of ‘legal persons.’ In contrast, the common law treats shipping vessels as inanimate objects.

What Are The Type Of Issues Tried In Admiralty Law Courts?

Now that we’ve explored the definition and differences between maritime and common law, you need to understand the type of court cases tried in admiralty law courts. Admiralty law courts preside over maritime issues related to contracts, injuries, torts, and crimes. The list below includes some of the cases you’ll commonly find on trial in admiralty law courts.

  • Criminal activity related to piracy
  • Vessel accidents where passenger or cargo ships suffer damages
  • Violating contract agreements or engaging in fraud
  • Wrongful deaths or injuries on shipping vessels
  • Violation of labor laws by shipowners
  • Environmental pollution from leakages of hazardous cargo
  • Conspiracy to conceal or falsify documentation

As a business owner in maritime trade and commerce, you need to understand the legal matters affecting your industry. So, you have to research the different laws and regulations affecting your business thoroughly. Suppose you don’t have the time to research maritime laws. In that case, you can seek professional help by consulting an experienced maritime lawyer. Only a lawyer with decades of experience can help you deal with the complexity of maritime law.
If you have any further questions about maritime law or need professional help with a maritime dispute, visit our website via this link and schedule a consultation.


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