THE PROVINCE AND FUNCTION OF ASSESSORS IN ENGLISH COURTS*

Publication Date01 Sep 1970
AuthorAnthony Dickey
DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2230.1970.tb01293.x
THE
PROVINCE AND FUNCTION
OF
ASSESSORS
IN
ENGLISH COURTS
*
THE practice of Courts of Admiralty calling upon the assistance of
nautical assessors to advise them
on
matters of nautical skill and
seamanship goes back for many centuries,' and even today the
Admiralty Court is the only court which
is
regularly assisted by
assess& in its proceedings. However, the power to seek the assist-
ance of persons with a special skill, knowledge
or
experience is not
confined to courts with Admiralty jurisdiction; county courfs, a11
divisions of the High Court and the Court of Appeal may summon
assessors in any civil proceedings, though few have ever done
so.*
Assessors are especially valuable
in
proceedings where specialist
knowledge
or
experience is frequently required, and where without
their assistance either complex and often conflicting evidence would
have to be provided by expert evidence
or
further specialist
tribunals created to deal with such matters. There has indeed been
a perceptible trend since the second half of the last century for
statutes specially to provide for courts and judicial inquiries to be
assisted by assessors in both nautical and non-nautical proceedings,
and similar provisions apply today
to
many statutory committees,
tribunals and inquiries.
The
first
part of this article will indicate the extent
to
which
courts are empowered
or
required to
summon
assessors and who
may fill this office.
In
the second part the function and practice of
assessors will be examined.
PART
1
1.
Courts which may be assisted
by
assessors (other than nautical
In
any proceedings before
a
county court the judge may,
if
he
thinks
fit
on
the application of any party,
summon
.to
his assistance
as an
assessor
one
or
more persons of
skill
and experience
in
the
matter to which the proceedings relate.s The judge thus has
a
dis-
cretion to refuse to
summon
assessors and contrariwise he is unable to
*
I
am grateful
to
Mr. Kenneth
C.
McGde,
the
Regktrar
of
the Admiralty
Court and the
Prize
Court,
for the assistance he has given
to
me in the prepara-
tion
of
this article and for
8llo~hg
me to inspect
end
use information from
his unpzlblished monograph
on
neutlcal assessors.
1
The first reported
case
yet published
of
asses~ors assisting the High Court of
Admiralty is
Re
Rumney
and
Wood
(1541).
Belden society,
Vol.
6,
pp.
1%
104
(trans. pp.
QlW215).
a
One of the rare
occasions
was when Devlin
J.
appointed
a
nautical asaessor to
advise him before arriving
at
his decision in
Socuthpott
Cozporation
v.
E880
Petroteurn
Co.
Ltd.,
Bee
[1958]
2
All
E.R.
la,
I206
(Q.B.D.).
J
County Courts Act
1969,
8.
91 (1).
assessors)
494

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