This week we bring tidings of such importance that we have devoted the entire Dekagram to them - a forthcoming rule change of the utmost importance to all those undertaking work in the Admiralty Division. Gone are the days of issuing in the Admiralty Court any claim involving water - in it, on it, under it, or over it. From 6th April a new age will be upon us, in which it will be necessary to think more carefully about which claims are suitable for issue in the Admiralty and which can and should be issued in the other Divisions of the High Court or in the County Court. Read on for details....and next week normal service will resume, with a further update on the Great Covid Refund Cases and other assorted topics.

Where do I start? Upcoming rule changes to starting shipping claims

From 6 April 2023 'ordinary' claims for personal injury or death arising out of accidents on a ship will no longer have to be issued in the Admiralty Division of the High Court.

Currently, any claim for personal injury or death specified in section 20(2)(f) of the Senior Courts Act 1981 must be started in the Admiralty Court(CPR 61.2(1)(a)(v)).

Section 20(2)(f) of the Senior Courts Act 1981 provides that:

'Any claim for loss of life or personal injury sustained in consequence of any defect in a ship or in her apparel or equipment, or in the consequence of the wrongful act, neglect or default of:

i. the owners, charterers or persons in possession or control of a ship; or

ii. the master or crew of the ship, or any other person for whose wrongful acts, neglects or defaults the owners, charterers or persons in possession or control of a ship are responsible

being an act, neglect of default in the navigation or management of a ship, in the loading, carriage or discharge of goods on, in or from the ship, or in the embarkation, carriage or disembarkation of persons on, in or from the ship.'

The scope of section 20(2)(f) is so wide as to encompass almost all personal injury claims arising out accidents on a ship; even where the underlying liability dispute raises no technical issues regarding the management and operation of the ship (such as ordinary slip/trip or food poisoning claims) and plainly does not require the expertise of the Admiralty Court.

The need to start a claim in the Admiralty Court in these circumstances, where it will inevitably be transferred out to the County Court or King's Bench Division, causes delay to the progress of the claim and places an administrative burden on the Admiralty Court. It has also promoted a degree of opportunism - with some claimants relying on CPR 61.2(1)(a) to escape fixed costs rules and defendants often applying to strike out claims started in the wrong Court.

The Civil Procedure Rule Committee has now considered this issue and amended CPR Part 61 (SI 2023/105) and the relevant PD (153rd Update). With effect from 6 April 2023, CPR 61.2(1)(a)(v) has been removed and instead 61.2(2) has been amended to state:

'Any other admiralty claim may be started in the Admiralty Court and a claim for loss of life or personal injury specified in Section 20(2)(f) of the Senior Courts Act 1981 should be started in the Admiralty Court in the circumstances set out in Practice Direction 61'.

The new jurisdiction of the Admiralty Court, set out in paragraphs 2.6 to 2.8 of PD 61 is as follows:.

  • Where a personal injury/fatal accident claim is made in rem or arises out of a collision it must be commenced in the Admiralty Court.
  • Other personal injury claims falling within s. 20(2)(f) of the Senior Courts Act 1981 may be commenced there but should not be (and are likely to be transferred to the County Court or the King's Bench Division) 'unless they require or would benefit from the specialist knowledge' of the Admiralty Court.
  • Paragraph 2.8 sets out a non-exhaustive list of cases which are likely to fall into this category requiring specialist knowledge. These include case which: '(a) involve questions of navigation, seamanship, boat or ship-handling skills and/or acts or omissions relating to sea state; (b) arise out of the shipwreck, capsizing or stranding of the ship, or explosion or fire in the ship; (c) are employer's liability claims relating to or concerning equipment or working practices peculiar to a ship; (d) raise difficult or novel questions of private international law or of the interpretation of the Athens Convention.'

Paragraph 2.9 confirms that if a claim is issued in the Admiralty Court, it may still be transferred, if appropriate to do so, on the application of any party or of the court's own motion, to another court.

To the extent that being within the jurisdiction of the Admiralty Court gives a claimant protection from fixed costs, there is bound to be further argument on the scope of the examples in paragraph 2.8. In particular, it remains to be seen whether, in a claim under the Athens Convention, it is sufficient that there is some dispute over interpretation in order to justify issuing the claim in the Admiralty Court.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.