Piracy and the Use of Force in Australian Law
The Commanding Officer (CO) of a Royal Australian Navy (RAN) warship sent to apprehend pirates might be forgiven for thinking that piracy would be a fairly settled issue in law. The ancient character of the crime suggests that there has been ample opportunity for the law to respond to it, and international law has had a reasonably comprehensive approach to piracy for at least a century. Australia has diligently ratified and implemented all of the relevant obligations. The problem is that this is all Australia has done. The authority to use force at sea to apprehend pirates under Australian law is quite limited, most likely due to the fact there has not been an Australian piracy case since the early 19th century. The relevant Australian legislation is effectively a reproduction of the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention 1982 (LOSC), an orthodox international law instrument concerning obligations between states which characteristically has little provision for the detail of law enforcement. Consequently, the provisions under the Crimes Act 1914 for arrest of pirates and seizure of their vessels and evidence are fairly bald; they stand in contrast to the elaborate machinery in the Customs Act 1901 or the Fisheries Management Act 1991 for enforcing the law at sea
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