The Causes Of Legislation In The Piracy Act Of 1700

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As there are inherent flaws with legislation in historical analysis, so too are there issues with these trial reports. The most obvious concern is that we must rely on the competence and impartiality of court registers which at times was questionable. William Norris, the register of the vice-Admiralty court of Jamaica, recorded little defense for John Rackam and his crew, noting their response to the judge’s inquiries was that “they had no Witnesses, That they had never committed any Acts of Piracy, That their Design was against the Spaniards, and other such-like frivolous and trifling Excuses.” This flaw is compounded by the Board of Trade and colonial governor’s desire to control the narrative of piracy trials leading to heavy censorship …show more content…
Interestingly, the act made it illegal for English subjects to attack English vessels under the protection of foreign commissions, but excluded non-English subjects from charges under such circumstances. The 1721 Piracy Act widened the definition even further, considering anyone who traded with pirates as equally guilty. Both acts are riddled with contradictory phrases using piracy and robbery and piracy or robbery interchangeably.
Regardless of how legislation defined, or failed to define, the crime itself, the language of the trials shows that court officials routinely administered their own definition in complete disregard of the law. Charles Hedges, Chief Justice of the High Court of Admiralty in London, argues in 1696 that piracy was limited to
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For example, during the trial of Samuel Bellamy’s crew in Boston, the King’s advocate James Smith nearly cites the legislation verbatim, stating “Now as Piracy is in it self a compilation of Treason, Oppression, Murder, Assassination, Robbery and Theft, so it denotes the Crime to be perpetrated on the High Seas, or some part thereof, whereby it becomes more Atrocious.” This vagueness in terminology in the laws allowed the courts to interpret piracy as widely as they needed to secure a conviction, but the true indicator of the benefits of ambiguity was that few courts strove for clarity in their indictments or instructions to the

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