Shiver me timbers! It’s International Talk Like a Pirate Day!
Capt. Jack Sparrow makes a pirate’s life look fun, but most pirates were not as lucky as him. If caught, most pirates were hung immediately. Usually only the most notorious ones were captured and brought to trial. For a historical look at piracy and the law, take a look at the Law Library of Congress’ digital archive of pirate trials. Most of the materials in this collection date from the 18th and 19th century and read like lurid potboilers with titles like, “Particulars of the Horrid and Atrocious Murders Committed on Board of the Brig Crawford.” One of the more notable trials in the exhibit is Captain William Kidd’s trial in 1701. Captain William Kidd was an infamous pirate at the turn of the 18th century who was convicted of murder and piracy and later hanged. Kidd’s guilt is still in dispute today- was he an agent for England’s interests or was he a true pirate with allegiance to none?
Piracy is still a problem on the high seas today. Somalia is perhaps the most notorious producer of pirates in the modern age. As of August 2011, 314 pirate attacks had been reported worldwide for 2011 with 178 attacks attributed to Somali pirates. Once pirates are captured, few countries know what to do with them – do countries want to incur the cost of incarceration and prosecution of pirates? If military forces are involved, should a pirate be prosecuted by a military tribunal or civilian court? Could a convicted pirate claim asylum to avoid extradition to his home country?
For more reading about piracy and the law in the modern age, go to WestlawNext, choose Secondary Sources from the Browsing menu, then choose Admiralty/Maritime under the By Topic section, and run the search “pirates.” Or you can search for “pirates” after choosing Secondary Sources from the Browsing menu. Beware of running a search for “piracy”, mateys, as the number of results is unwieldy and will make you want to walk the plank to escape….ARRRR!