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The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council

Introduction

"The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council is the court of final appeal for those Commonwealth countries which have retained the appeal to Her Majesty in Council or, in the case of Republics, to the Judicial Committee. It is also the final appeal court for the Channel Islands, Isle of Man and United Kingdom overseas territories. It also has certain domestic jurisdiction within the United Kingdom, including the function of being the court of final appeal for determining "devolution issues" under the United Kingdom devolution statutes of 1998. For further details see below and under Jurisdiction.

Five judges normally sit to hear appeals (except appeals from United Kingdom professional bodies) and three for other matters.

The Judicial Committee deals with about 65-75 appeals a year. For further details see Statistics. The Court sits in Downing Street. Before an appeal can be brought to the Judicial Committee, leave is usually required.

History

The judicial jurisdiction of the Privy Council rests on the ancient prerogative of the Sovereign as the fountain of justice throughout Her dominions. The jurisdiction within the realm was abolished in the 17th century but continued for appeals arising from the overseas possessions and dominions of the Crown. From 1696 to 1833 such appeals were referred to a standing Appeals Committees of the Privy Council. In 1833 Lord Chancellor Brougham succeeded in securing the enactment of the Judicial Committee Act 1833, establishing the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council on its modern basis: defining its Membership (largely confined to senior judges) and regulating its powers and procedures. Subsequent legislation has made some changes but the 1833 Act remains the Judicial Committee’s basic statute.

In the hundred years or so from 1833 to the end of the Second World War the Judicial Committee’s caseload was increasingly heavy, reflecting the size of the Crown’s overseas possessions and dominions during that period and necessitating the Committee’s sitting in up to three divisions at a time. In 1931 the Statute of Westminster enabled the then independent Dominions to abolish the appeal to the Judicial Committee if they so wished and in the 30 years following the end of the Second World War the great majority of the other overseas territories of the Crown became independent. Some of these countries have chosen to retain appeals to the Judicial Committee but in a majority of cases the right of appeal has been abolished. The right of appeal has been retained by some countries despite their becoming republics; in these cases the appeal is to the Judicial Committee itself rather than to the Sovereign in Council.

Despite the great reduction in the geographical area of its jurisdiction the Judicial Committee still has a sizeable caseload and is occupied full time.

Some new jurisdiction has recently been conferred on the Judicial Committee. Under the Scotland Act 1998, the Northern Ireland 1998 and the Government of Wales Act 1998 it will be the court of last resort for determining issues relating to the competences of the legislative and executive authorities established under those Acts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The first devolution appeal, under the Scotland Act 1998, was heard by the Judicial Committee in July 2000.

The procedure to be observed in Commonwealth appeals to the Judicial Committee is set out in the Judicial Committee (General Appellate Jurisdiction) Rules. Other proceedings are governed by special codes of rules. For further details see Legislation, section 3(a). Only registered Privy Council agents may conduct Commonwealth appeals in the Judicial Committee

For an introduction to the Privy Council Office as a whole.