top of page

Panama Celebrates the 40th Anniversary of its Maritime Jurisdiction

Originally published on: Legal Industry Reviews

Four decades have passed since the entry into force of Law 8 of 1982 that creates the Maritime Courts of Panama and establishes their procedural rules. The law effectively granted jurisdiction to Panamanian courts over maritime matters. With this important anniversary, the maritime vocation of the Republic of Panama is consolidated, reaffirming our commitment to world trade.

After the separation of Panama from Colombia in 1903, the first international action of the new republic was the signing of the Hay-Bunau Varilla Treaty, signed with the United States of America for the construction of the isthmian canal. With this treaty, the Canal Zone was officially established as an unincorporated territory within which the United States of America was granted "all rights, power and authority that the United States would possess and exercise if they were sovereign of the territory within which said lands and waters are located, with the entire exclusion of the exercise of such sovereign rights, power or authority by the Republic of Panama". This concession included exclusive jurisdiction and jurisdiction over maritime matters derived from traffic, transportation, maritime commerce, and port activity around the Panama Canal.

In 1914, the United States District Court for the Canal Zone was formally established in Panama. Beginning in 1948, jurisdiction to hear appeals was granted to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Federal Circuit, located in New Orleans, Louisiana.

For years, Panama requested the revision of the conditions of the Hay-Bunau Varilla Treaty, finally achieving the signing of the Torrijos-Carter Treaties of 1977, which replaced the 1903 Treaty. The new Panama Canal Treaty, which entered into force in October 1979, granted a thirty-month transition period for the closure of the United States District Court for the Canal Zone and the effective transfer of jurisdiction to the Panamanian judiciary.

To meet the need for a Panamanian maritime jurisdiction to replace that of the Canal Zone, the President of Panama Basilio Lakas appointed a commission of lawyers, members of the Panama Bar Association and the Canal Zone Bar Association, headed by Woodrow DeCastro. The product of the work of this commission was Law 8 of 1982, our Code of Maritime Procedure, which created a jurisdiction that could hear maritime cases that occurred in Panama, involving Panamanian-flagged ships or those in which a ship was arrested in Panamanian territorial waters.

The Law Project was approved by the legislature and ratified by the President on March 30, 1982. On March 31, 1982, the United States District Court for the Canal Zone was officially closed, effectively giving way to Panamanian Maritime jurisdiction.

Law 8 of 1982 continues to be pioneering legislation, as it incorporates American, British, German, French, Spanish, Argentine, Colombian and Panamanian legislative influences. The most important of these is the possibility of trying cases under the Panamanian procedural rules with the merits decided under a foreign substantive law. As a jurisdiction of the first order, the Republic of Panama continues to be at the forefront of global trade, prepared to resolve world maritime conflicts.


bottom of page