The History and Jurisdiction of the Privy Council

Posted by Nicola Diggle on
The jurisdiction of the Privy Council originated at the Norman conquest with the premise that, “The King is the fountain of all justice throughout his Dominions, and exercises jurisdiction in his Council, which act in an advisory capacity to the Crown.”

This council or court was the ‘Curia Regis’ from which springs our whole judicial system. Subjects who had grievances against the administration of justice could submit their petitions to the King who appears to have exercised supreme appellate jurisdiction. When Parliament developed out of this council, the majority of petitions were referred to the High Court of Parliament, which became the chief appellate tribunal. At the beginning of the fourteenth century, receivers were appointed to aid the dispensation of justice in Parliament. One group was appointed for Great Britain and Ireland, and one for the Channel Islands.

Appeals from the Channel Islands became the first regular appellate business of the King’s Council, now the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. With the growth of the British Empire, this business increased with appeals and petitions from the Royal Council, and Privy Council Committees were formed. In the 1920s, it was said that people living on a quarter of the planet could bring their appeals to the JCPC (including Canada, Australia, New Zealand India and parts of Africa).

The present constitution of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council is based on the Judicial Committee Act 1833.Under the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876, the Law Lords became the permanent judges of the court.

Today, all Privy Counsellors who hold or have held high judicial office in the United Kingdom, or have been judges of superior courts of certain Commonwealth countries, are eligible to sit if they are under 75 years of age.

Today, a total of 27 Commonwealth countries, UK overseas territories and crown dependencies use the JCPC as their final court of appeal.

Until October 2009, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council heard appeals in the Council Chamber at 9 Downing Street, next door to the UK Prime Minister's residence at No 10 Downing Street. The Law Lords travelled across Parliament Square from the House of Lords to hear cases. Today the JCPC shares a building with, and many administrative functions, with The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.

Following extensive renovations, the JCPC and the UK Supreme Court are now located in London in the Middlesex Guildhall building on Parliament Square, opposite Westminster Abbey and the UK Houses of Parliament. Facilities include a permanent exhibition, a café, a law library, private meeting rooms for advocates and full public and disabled access to the courts. The court rooms boast modern facilities and furniture as well as house an impressive art collection which commemorates a number of former Lord Lieutenants, judges and Magistrates, including the 1st Duke of Northumberland in portraits by both Gainsborough and Reynolds.

About the Author

Nicola is a Senior Associate in our Litigation and Dispute Resolution Division specialising in commercial litigation and dispute resolution. She has a great deal of experience acting for individuals and corporates.

Nicola Diggle
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