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The Vice Admiralty Court Act – July 5th, 1768
An event every year that begins at 12:00 am on day 5 of July, repeating indefinitely
The final of the five Townshend Acts. It was not passed until 6 July 1768, a full year after the other four. Lord Charles Townshend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, after whom the Townshend Acts were named, had died suddenly in September 1767. Because of this, some scholars do not include the Vice-Admiralty Court Act with the other Townshend Acts, but most do since it deals with the same issues. The Act was not passed by Parliament, but by the Lords Commissioners of His Majesty’s Treasury, with the approval of the King.
The Act was passed to aid the prosecution of smugglers. It gave Royal naval courts, rather than colonial courts, jurisdiction over all matters concerning customs violations and smuggling. Before the Act, customs violators could be tried in an admiralty court in Halifax, Nova Scotia, if royal prosecutors believed they would not get a favorable outcome using a local judge and jury. The Vice-Admiralty Court Act added three new royal admiralty courts in Boston, Philadelphia and Charleston to aid in more effective prosecutions. These courts were run by judges appointed by the Crown and who were awarded 5% of any fine the judge levied when they found someone guilty. The decisions were made solely by the judge, without the option of trial by jury, which was considered to be a fundamental right of British subjects. In addition, the accused person had to travel to the court of jurisdiction at his own expense; if he did not appear, he was automatically considered guilty.