Criminal Admiralty Jurisdiction and Prize

In November 1982 the ALRC was directed to report on the Admiralty jurisdiction in Australia.

ALRC Report 33 found that the Colonial Courts of Admiralty Act 1890 (Imp) had limited civil admiralty jurisdiction to matters that were within the admiralty jurisdiction of England as at 1890. As a result there were many uncertainties about, and unjustified limitations on, the scope of the jurisdiction.

The report outlined that any reform of the jurisdiction must take account of the fact that commercial practices had been built up on the assumption that jurisdiction would be exercised over ships and ship owners in special ways and that there were certain international trends in admiralty. ALRC Report 33 concluded that admiralty jurisdiction should be stated in a clear, precise and accessible form.

ALRC Report 48, the second report into admiralty jurisdiction, identified that the existing jurisdiction of Australian courts over offences committed at sea had two main sources—Imperial Admiralty legislation and modern Commonwealth or state legislation. The report found that this combination of sources had resulted in laws that were inconsistent and uncertain.

Key recommendations

ALRC Report 33

  • The Colonial Courts of Admiralty Act 1890 (Imp) should be repealed.
  • A federal Admiralty Act covering maritime liens, actions in rem, actions in personam and issues of jurisdiction should be enacted.

ALRC Report 48

  • All imperial legislation in the area should be repealed.
  • Federal legislation relevant to Australia’s needs should be enacted.


ALRC Report 33

The ALRC’s recommendations for the repeal of Imperial legislation and its replacement with federal legislation containing a modern jurisdiction over maritime disputes was implemented by the Admiralty Act 1988 (Cth), which came into operation on 1 January 1989.

ALRC Report 48

The Crimes (Ships and Platforms) Act 1992 (Cth) followed the ALRC’s recommendation that effect be given to the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful acts Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation and the Protocol for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Fixed Platforms.

The Crimes Legislation Amendment Act 1992 (Cth) implemented the ALRC’s recommendations on piracy.

The Criminal Code Amendment (Slavery and Sexual Servitude) Act 1999 (Cth) was passed in August 1999. The offences in the Act, which are directed at slavery, sexual servitude, and deceptive recruiting, are based on model provisions developed by the Model Criminal Code Officers’ Committee, which in turn were based upon recommendations in ALRC Report 48.

In addition to implementing the report’s recommendations, this Act ratified Australia’s international obligations under a wide range of international instruments to prohibit servitude and the trafficking in persons for the purposes of sexual servitude. These include the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women 1979; the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child; and the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.