The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Daily News (Kingston, ON), Feb. 14, 1860

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p.2 An Admiralty Court

To the Honorable The Attorney General West.

Dear Sir, - It has often occurred to me that our marine laws are defective. I have been present on several occasions when marine cases were being tried, and, often, from the nature of the evidence, it was morally impossible for a jury, composed of men not at all acquainted with maritime affairs, to judge of the merits of a case, therefore justice was not obtained.

I have sailed on our lakes for the last thirty years, and therefore claim to have some experience; especially as I have been master the greater part of that time, during which there were some suits in which I was interested. I will state two in which I think justice was not obtained. The first was a case of collision, in which I think we had no claim; but others, who were interested as well as myself, urged that we should bring an action. We did so; got a verdict, and recovered damages

Another case, also of collision, in which we brought an action to recover damages, we had a very clear case; it was clearly proved, and the jury gave us a verdict, but the lawyer for the defence reserved some points for the decision of the judges. They set aside the verdict and in their judgement which I read, it was clear that even they did not decide according to the evidence.

I am aware that I am taking high ground in making such an assertion, but, at the same time, no one has a higher opinion of the ability of our judges than I; their integrity no one can, for a moment, doubt; but I attribute their decision merely to their not understanding properly the position of the vessels and the duty of those in charge.

In support of this position, I may add another marine case, which was reserved for the decision of the judges. The plaintiff obtained a verdict, but the judges set it aside, and granted a new trial. The evidence was so clear, the counsel for the plaintiff called on the judges, and pointed out the strong points of the case; the judges were candid enough to acknowledge that they were wrong, but, having given judgement, they could not reverse it.

Much more might be said of the difficulty of obtaining justice in marine cases; let the foregoing suffice. Permit me to make a few suggestions on the subject.

Let an Admiralty Court be established for Canada West. Let the judge of this court make it his business to become thoroughly acquainted with marine cases; and, in order to assist him to arrive more surely at the real merits of a case, let a practical man be appointed as associate judge, who has been master of both sail and steam vessels on these waters a sufficient time to be thoroughly acquainted with the working of both, and who would, therefore, have no cause for partiality.

This person, from his experience, would be able to explain to the judge the position of the vessels at all points of the evidence; to show him fully the duty of the parties on board of both vessels at all times, and to bring out points which none but a practical man could so readily see. By this means the judge would be able to obtain an impartial explanation of every feature in the case. This person should not have any interest in vessels after his appointment.

All collisions happen at night, and the practical man only can understand the difficulty of passing at night in safety. For instance, you see a light ahead, and that is all; very often, you cannot tell which side the vessel intends to take, because you cannot see her; hence the danger.

I have ventured to throw out these crude remarks for your consideration. The interest of the mercantile marine is suffering for want of improvement in our marine code, and if we had a law founded on this basis, it would be a boon conferred on our vessel owners. There is a decided advantage also in having an Admiralty Court, because the judge can try a case when he pleases, so that the plaintiff, if he is too late for the ordinary turn of the Court of Queen's Bench, has not to wait six months for the next sitting of the court. Thus the "law's delay" would, in a great measure, be avoided.

I have the honor to be, etc.,

Cobourg, 11th Feb. Progress

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Feb. 14, 1860
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Rick Neilson
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Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Daily News (Kingston, ON), Feb. 14, 1860