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Colonial Cases

Wardrop v. Owners of the Ship Leon XIII 1883

[shipping, jurisdiction]

Wardrop v. Owners of the Ship Leon XIII

Court of Appeal
25 April 1883
Source: The Times, 26 April,1883

LAW REPORT, April 25.
(Before the Master of the Rolls and Lord Justice Bowen.)
  This case involved a very important question as to the power of the judge of the Admiralty Court to refuse to adjudicate upon claims of English seamen who have taken service in a foreign ship. In November, 1881, the plaintiffs were engaged by the defendants, the owners of the Spanish ship Leon XIII, as first, second, and third engineers, for a voyage from Liverpool to Manila and back.  On the 21st of December, 1881, the ship being then at Aden, the plaintiffs alleged that they were wrongfully imprisoned on board by the master, and kept in confinement to March 27, 1882, when they were discharged at Manila.  Being unable to obtain employment there they afterwards returned to Liverpool, and commenced the present action to recover their wages and damages for wrongful dismissal.
  A protest, supported by an affidavit, was thereupon presented by the Spanish Consul at Liverpool, which stated that the ship Leon XIII was a Spanish ship owned by a Spanish subject, that the plaintiffs signed the agreement under which they were suing at Barcelona, and that it was in the Spanish language.   In these circumstances, the Consul alleged that by the law of Spain the plaintiffs were restricted from taking proceedings against the vessel or her owners except before a Spanish tribunal, or, in foreign countries, before the Spanish Consul. He further stated that he was ready and willing to deal with the plaintiffs' claim, and that he was informed that the plaintiffs had been guilty of insubordination and want of due respect to the captain and officers of the ship.  For these reasons he protested against the exercise of jurisdiction by the English Admiralty Court. Sir Robert Phillimore gave judgment, dismissing the suit, being of opinion that, though the Court had power to entertain it, it had a discretion to decide whether it was fitting to do so or not. From this decision the plaintiffs appealed.
  Mr. Reid, Q.C., was commencing his argument for the respondents, when he was stopped by the Court, who gave judgment, dismissing the appeal.
  The Master of the Rolls said that the Spanish Consul alleged that the present was in fact a Spanish contract, and, in his opinion, there was strong, if not conclusive, evidence to show that it was so.  There was no affidavit in answer to that of the Consul, and Sir Robert Phillimore had held that the plaintiffs must be taken to be for the time being Spanish subjects. He had then proceeded to apply the principles which had been laid down in previous cases - viz., that although the jurisdiction of the Admiralty Court cannot be ousted even by an express agreement, still it is in the discretion of that Court whether it will in such a case as the present exercise that jurisdiction. And the question, therefore, was whether Sir Robert Phillimore had properly exercised that discretion. In order to induce the Court to interfere on such a ground, however, it must be shown that the Judge had acted upon an entirely wrong principle. That was not shewn in the present case, and the decision appealed from, must, therefore, be dismissed.
  Lord Justice Bowen concurred.

Source: The Times, March 17, 1892.

  The master of the steamer Leon XIII., from Liverpool for Manila, has been committed for contempt of Court, and sentenced to six months; imprisonment for not producing some English engineers who were placed in irons for mutiny off Aden. The steamer has escaped from Singapore in charge of the mate.

Published by Centre for Comparative Law, History and Governance at Macquarie Law School