Inspired by the recent ‘Sharkano’ story (hammerheads surviving in an acidic volcanic crater – clearly a bad horror film waiting to happen – I am thinking Shannen Doherty in the lead role of misunderstood voice of reason, following her turn in the Killer Lampreys film: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/technology-science/science/terrifying-heat-proof-sharks-found-living-6057016 ), I felt compelled to check out the role of sharks in legal history.
Hard to believe as it may seem, they do not feature in the Year Books (though there are many cases on fishing rights). I had been hoping for a neat Magna Carta link-up with a shark being caught in an illegal fish weir, but sadly no joy. So on to the English Reports. Not surprisingly, there is a ship called the Shark (most ER searches turn up at least one ship-name case for whatever is placed in the search engine) – Neptune the Second (1814) 165 ER 1380, the Shark coming in on p. 1381); see also 143 ER 303, 312; 144 ER 212; 156 ER 463 for this ship, or a similarly named one. There are also a number of parties to cases with the surname Shark.
At last, an actual shark appears in In re the ‘Eleanor’ (1809) 165 ER 1058, an appeal against condemnation for breach of the navigation laws. The shark is mentioned in the ship’s log book as having been caught by the sailors, and this is part of the case against the claim that the ship was forced into port by distress. No further details of our fishy friend, sadly.
More recent cases from England and Wales feature plenty of ‘loan sharks’, an idea which seems to go back some way – see e.g. the similar usage of ‘land sharks’ (and harpies) in a case of a sailor duped into signing a disadvantageous agreement: Taylour v Rochfort 28 ER 182. There are many tired metaphors involving ‘shark-infested waters’ and ‘swimming with sharks’ (for bullying business practices of various kinds, probably not involving sleek top-of -the-food pyramid predators), an intrigung disputed invention called the ‘flying shark’ (sounds a bit Sharknado to me), a shark trade-mark row, Then there is a family case in which part of the evidence was a child’s drawing of his father being eaten by a shark – W v. T  EWHC 2312, and the spoilsport refusal of planning permission for a fibre-glass model of a shark crashing into the roof of a suburban house- Oxford CC v Heine 91992) 7 P.A.D. 481. There is one ‘murder by shark’ case, R v Clarke and King  Crim. LR 836, in which the victim was thrown into shark-infested waters and not seen again. Looking further afield, there is an amazing murder case with a crucial role for a shark: the Sydney Shark case in S. Smith, Mostly Murder (1959) p. 222 ff. I won’t spoil it, but it involves a vomiting shark, and a theory that a man was murdered and his remains cast out to sea, only for some of them to come back inside the said vomiting shark.
To return to the shark as a metaphorical beast, one well-known association is, of course, between the shark and the lawyer – see the well-worn joke about sharks, lawyers and professional courtesy. This has long roots as well – a poetic guide to pleading of 1803 has characters called Hawk and Shark: J.J.S, The Pleader’s Guide (1803) Lecture III – and I am sure there will be earlier antecedents. Another one for the ‘to do’ list.