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Most cases of maritime barratry involved the deliberate wrecking of a ship for her insurance value. In a wooden-hulled ship, this could be easily done by one man in the hold, drilling holes. Sometimes the captain and crew were in on it, sometimes not.

Steel-hulled ships were considerably more difficult to wreck. The most frequent method seems to have been deliberately running them aground, so that the captain and crew might survive to collect their payoff.

Cases of barratry were usually very difficult to prove. The laws, until fairly recently, were firmly on the side of the shipowners and captains. Alan Villiers cited one such case, of a British sailing ship, Gunford, wrecked on the coast of Brazil in 1907. The Gunford was heavily over-insured, and had not made a profit in several years. Her captain had not been to sea in over twenty years, after losing his previous ship. Gunford hit the coast of Brazil three times homeward bound to England before finally being wrecked. The relevant pages of the log had been ripped out. The captain claimed this had been done by "pirates" who had looted the ship after it was wrecked. At the resulting inquiry, the captain's license was suspended for a year, and all insurance claims were ordered to be paid.

In the last days of sailing ships, barratry was often more profitable than carrying freight.

Source: Alan Villiers, The War With Cape Horn.

Barratry in criminal law is when a lawyer or plantiff frequently carries out legal action, often of neglible merit, with the intent to annoy or harrass.

Such cases could be thrown out for being frivolous if it can be proven that the lawyer and his plantiff proceeded with legal actions knowing that the case had no merit, did not seek to reinterpret existing legal statutes or decisions, and/or the plantiff is relying on evidence or facts so dodgy that their lawyer should have obviously identified. In the United States Federal Rule 11 states that the onus is on the lawyer to exercise due diligence and investigate the integrity of the plantiff's arguments before filing a suit.

A vexatious suit involves filing a frivolous suit with malice - designed to injure a respondant through the inconvenience and damage to reputation that ensues from a law suit.

In many jurisdictions sanctions exist against lawyers and plantiffs for instituting frivolous or vexatious lawsuits.

The term barratry also refers to the practice banned by the Catholic church of selling or buying spiritual favours that are normally rendered by members of clery. The 'temporal' items identified by Gregory the Great as part of an illicit sale include munus a manu (material advantage), munus a lingua (commendations) and munus ab obsequio (homage). These things include ceremonies like grace, the sacraments and sacramentals, and religious items like holy water and crucifixes, as part of a private sale. Barratry in this sense is better known as simony.

And barratry can also be used to describe mutiny on a ship instigated by the captain or master.


Bar"ra*try (?), n. [Cf. F. baraterie, LL. barataria. See Barrator, and cf. Bartery.]

1. Law

The practice of exciting and encouraging lawsuits and quarrels.

[Also spelt barretry.]

Coke. Blackstone.

2. Mar. Law

A fraudulent breach of duty or willful act of known illegality on the part of a master of a ship, in his character of master, or of the mariners, to the injury of the owner of the ship or cargo, and without his consent. It includes every breach of trust committed with dishonest purpose, as by running away with the ship, sinking or deserting her, etc., or by embezzling the cargo.

Kent. Part.

3. Scots Law

The crime of a judge who is influenced by bribery in pronouncing judgment.



© Webster 1913.

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