The ancient heritable office of High Admiral of Scotland carried with it an extensive civil and criminal jurisdiction. The interference of the lately constituted Court of Session with the exclusive right of the Admiral to hear and decide maritime causes was the subject of a remit by Parliament in 1554; and although the decision is not recorded, it would appear that his right to decide all such causes, in the first instance at least, continued to be recognised, the Court of Session having a right of review. See the Act 1661, c.87, where it is provided that decisions given in the Admiral as well as other courts during the usurpation might be brought in question before the Court of Session "in the same form" and manner as was formely established by the law and "practick of this kingdom."
The jurisdiction included the determination of all actions relating to maritime contracts, salvage, demurrage, &c., and in criminal matters, cases of piracy and mutiny, and other crimes committed on the high seas or within the limits of the Admiral's office. By common law a considerable jurisdiction in mercantile causes, not properly maritime, was also, much to the hardship of suitors, allowed to the Admiralty Court.
The Act 1681, c.82, ratified an Act, passed in 1609, conferring on the Court of Admiralty the power of summary execution upon all its decreets, and declared that the High Admiral, as His Majesty's Justice-General upon the Seas, had the sole privilege and jurisdiction in all maritime and seafaring causes, civil and criminal, and that the High Court of Admiralty was a supreme court to whose review all inferior courts were subject. The Court of Session was limited to review by suspension or reduction. Among the rights exercised by the Court were the issue of Letters of Marque and Safe Conducts or passes to go abroad.
The Admiral had the right of nominating deputes as judges of the High Court.
Clause 19 of the Treaty of Union provided for the continuance of the Court of Admiralty in Scotland, with the same powers and subject to the like review of its judgments, until the Parliament of the United Kingdom should make such regulations and alterations as should be judged expendient for the whole kingdom. The Court accordingly continued to exercise its functions down to 1830, when, by the Court of Session Act 1 William IV., c.69, it was abolished, and the original jurisdiction in all maritime civil causes and proceedings conferred on the Court of Session, actions not exceeding a certain value being brought in the first instance before the Sheriff Court. The Circuit Courts (Scotland) Act 1828 (9 Geo. IV., c.29) had already declared the cumulative jurisdiction of the High of Court Justiciary to extend to all crimes and offences competent to the Court of Admiralty; and the Act of 1830 conferred a similar jurisdiction both in civil and criminal causes on the Sheriff Courts within their respective districts. As directed by the 26th section of the Act of 1830, the Records and Warrants of the Court of Admiralty, other than those relating to suits actually depending, were transmitted for preservation to the Lord Clerk-Register.
A volume entitled "Acta Curiae Admirallatus Scotae" is the only extant early record deposited in the National Archives of Scotland. It contains the Acts of the Court sitting at Edinburgh and Leith under the presidency of the Vice-Admirals from 6th September, 1557, to 11th March, 1561/2, the office of High Admiral being then held by the Earl of Bothwell.
The Processes comprising AC8, AC9, AC10, AC11, AC15, and AC17, have been chronologically listed and are being alphabetically arranged.