Legal Practice: the Administration of
The administration of maritime justice in general was conducted on two levels. Although this study focuses mainly on the practice of maritime law in the town courts, justice was also administered on board ships. As there is almost no information about this practice, as it was oral in nature, only a few comments can be made on it here. In Article 85 of the Lübeck Town Law (‘Van tuge in schepes richte’; see Table 4.2) it is laid down that, when a complaint was brought before the skipper and others on board ships, and judgement was passed by the shipmaster, the case did not need to be taken to another court.1 This article was included in the Town Law between 1263 and 1275. None of the other written laws refers to the jurisdiction of the skipper. Although the Lübeck article does not specify which cases could be taken before this ship’s court, the shipmaster’s jurisdiction would have been restricted to matters in which he himself was not involved. Most of these cases would have concerned discipline on board. That groups of skippers requested additional regulation concerning this subject repeatedly in a Hanseatic context throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, resulting in the Ordnung für Schiffer und Schiffsleute and the 1482 Schifferordnung, indicates that they administered justice in these cases themselves.2 It also suggests that shipmasters required assistance from the law to maintain discipline on their ships and could not stipulate rules themselves. Town courts, on the other hand, could formulate laws if none were available in writing.3 The cases concerning shipwreck, jettison and ship collision
1 ‘So we umme schult to vorderende, oder umme ene andere sake, kumt an en schip und klage rort vor deme schipherre mit den luden deme klegere na schepes rechte. Umme schult oder umme andere sake, de gene de dese schult oder dese sake vorderet, de ne is nicht plictich ienege tughe anders vor to bringende.’ Lübeck TL, art. 85. Jahnke suggests that the article should be taken to mean that complaints in connection to transport or trade over sea were decided by the skipper as a rule, and not by the town court. Jahnke, ‘Hansisches Seerecht’, 58. Though I agree that this article confirms that the skipper had some jurisdiction in ‘shipping law’, the article does not stipulate that these cases had to be judged by the skipper. In fact, cases of, for example, jettison, could not be handled by the skipper as, according to the Rôles, oaths had to be taken that his casting overboard of the goods had been necessary. Oléron, art. 8.
2 See Chapters 1 and 4.
3 In a letter from Amsterdam to Bremen, which was a reply to a request for legal advice, the former replied that it could not find an answer to this specific question in its written laws,