Judicial Committee of the Privy Council

From Academic Kids

The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council is one of the highest courts in the United Kingdom. It is also the highest court of appeal (or court of last resort) for several independent Commonwealth countries, the UK overseas territories, and the British crown dependencies. It is simply referred to as the Privy Council, as appeals are in fact made to Her Majesty in Council who then refers the case to the Judicial Committee for "advice". In Commonwealth republics, appeals are made directly to the Judicial Committee instead. In the case of Brunei, the appeal is made to the local Sultan, who is advised by the Judicial Committee. Formerly the Judicial Committee gave a single piece of advice, but since the 1960s dissenting opinions have been allowed.

The judicial system of the United Kingdom is unusual in having no single highest national court; the Judicial Committee is the highest court of appeal in some cases, while in most others the highest court of appeal is the House of Lords. In Scottish criminal cases the highest court is the High Court of Justiciary.


Domestic jurisdiction

The Privy Council has jurisdiction in the following domestic matters:

The Constitutional Reform Act 2005 will transfer the devolution powers to the new Supreme Court of the United Kingdom when it comes into force.

Additionally, the Government may (through the Queen) refer any issue to the committee for a report.

Foreign jurisdiction

The Committee holds jurisdiction in appeals from the following countries "to Her Majesty in Council"

Appeal is directly to the Committee from

Appeal is to the Sultan in

  • Brunei. (The Queen and the Sultan have agreed that the Judicial Committee hears the case and reports to the Sultan.)


The Judicial Committee includes the following:

  • The Lord Chancellor
  • Former Lord Chancellors
  • Lords of Appeal in Ordinary (who also serve in the House of Lords, known as 'Law Lords')
  • Other Lords of Appeal
  • Privy Counsellors who are or were judges of the Court of Appeal of England, the Inner House of the Court of Session in Scotland or the Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland
  • Privy Counsellors who are judges of certain superior courts in Commonwealth nations

The bulk of the work is done by the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary, who are paid to work full time on the judicial functions of the House of Lords and the Privy Council. Foreign judges may not sit when certain domestic matters are being heard.

The end of Commonwealth Appeals

Initially, all Commonwealth Realms and their territories maintained a right of appeal to the Privy Council. Many of those that became republics or independent indigenous monarchies preserved the Privy Council's jurisdiction by entering into treaties with the British Crown. However, over time many members began to see the Privy Council as being out of tune with local values, and an obstacle to full judicial sovereignty.

  • Australia effectively abolished the right of appeal from the Commonwealth Courts by the Privy Council (Limitation of Appeals) Act 1968 and the Privy Council (Appeals from the High Court) Act 1975, and from the State courts by the Australia Act 1986. The Australian constitution still has a provision requiring the leave of the High Court of Australia for appeal to the Privy Council on certain matters, so theoretically the High Court could still grant leave on those restricted subjects. However, the High Court has stated that it will not give such permission, so the possibility is purely theoretical.
  • Canada created its Supreme Court in 1875. Criminal appeals to the Privy Council ended in 1933 and civil appeals in 1949. The JCPC played a controversial role in the evolution of Canadian federalism.
  • New Zealand law was changed in October 2003 to abolish appeals to the Privy Council in respect of all cases heard by the Court of Appeal of New Zealand after the end of 2003, in favour of a Supreme Court of New Zealand.
  • Hong Kong's final appeal was transferred to the Court of Final Appeal of the territory following the handover in 1997.
  • Malaysia abolished appeals to the Privy Council in 1985.
  • Singapore abolished Privy Council appeals in 1994.
  • The nations of the Caribbean Community similarly voted in 2001 to abolish the right of appeal to the Privy Council in favour of a Caribbean Court of Justice. Debate between member countries have repeatedly delayed the court's date of operation. As of March 2005, only Barbados is set to replace appeals to Her Majesty in Council with the Caribbean Court of Justice which has yet to come into operation. No other states appear to be set to abolish appeals any time soon.

However Jamaica did attempt to abolish appeals but the Judicial Committee ruled that the procedure that the government used in ammending the constitution was incorrect and unconstitutional.

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