Records of the House of Lords: Parliament Office: Judicial Office
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- Held At: Parliamentary Archives: GB-061
- Catalogue Reference: HL/PO/JU
- Date: 1680-2009
- Level: Sub sub fonds
- Extent: 43 series
- Creator Name: House of Lords: Judicial Office, 1854-2009
- Administrative or Biographical History: Until 2009, the House of Lords performed a judicial function as the highest court in the land. It acted as the final court of appeal on points of law for the whole of the United Kingdom in civil and criminal cases, with the exception of criminal cases in Scotland. Its decisions bound all courts below. The Supreme Court of Judicature Act 1873 abolished the appellate jurisdiction of the House of Lords however this provision did not become operative. In its modern form, as made concrete by the Appellate Jurisdiction Act of 1876, its work [36 & 37 Vic c66] was carried out by twelve salaried Lords of Appeal in Ordinary (Law Lords) who were life peers holding Letters Patent from the Crown.
The Judicial Office administered the judicial business of the House and provided administrative support for the Law Lords. It supervised the preparation and arrangements for the hearing of appeals and the taxation of judicial costs. It was also responsible for peerage claims which were referred to the Committee for Privileges. The Clerk of the Judicial Office was appointed by the Clerk of the Parliaments as Registrar of Peers' Interests.
Jurisdiction exercised by Parliament dates back to the 13th century. The Lords received many petitions of right and also dealt with other cases where other courts had failed to provide a satisfactory solution.
In the Middle Ages the House of Lords sometimes exercised an original jurisdiction; that is, it held authority as a court of first instance in civil and criminal matters and was able to hear original causes. Attempts to revive this practice in the 17th century failed due to opposition from the Commons and the judicature. A limited original jurisdiction continued until 1948, allowing peers charged with treason or felony to be tried by the House of Lords. From the 17th century its power as an appellate court was confirmed.
Parliament was responsible for the special categories of Impeachment (from 1376); Crown accusation of great offenders (eg Nicholas de Segrave, 1305) and of private accusation (or appeal) by one subject of another in a matter of great crime (eg accusations by the Lords Appellant, 1387-1388). Closely allied to these categories was the trial of peers by the House, which was considered to be founded upon the Magna Carta.
By the beginning of the 16th century this original jurisdiction had largely fallen into abeyance, with the last medieval impeachment being in 1459. The Council and the new Courts of Equity heard many such cases affecting lesser subjects: Parliamentary Acts of Attainder served as substitutes for some of the other processes and ordinary Private Acts provided remedies for many private petitions.
In the course of the 14th century the Lords in Parliament had come to exercise a certain proportion of jurisdiction in error. In the case of Flourdew (I Hen VII) the judges laid down the procedure to be followed in cases of "error"; that is, where it was believed that a judgment was flawed on a point of law. The aggrieved party had to petition the King for a writ of error, and if the petition was endorsed by the King, the Chancellor would issue a writ directed to the Chief Justice of the King's Bench. The petition, the writ and a transcript of the process and pleadings were then delivered to the House of Lords. Error lay to the Lords, at this time, from the Courts of King's Bench and Chancery (on the common law side). In 1459 it had been laid down by Chief Justice Prisot that no appeal lay to Parliament from decisions of the Chancellor in matters of equity.
Jurisdiction in error largely fell into abeyance in the 16th century. The statute erecting a new Court of Exchequer Chamber in 1585, 27 Eliz I c8, for the purpose of amending the errors of the King's Bench in certain specified types of action, also recognised a right of further appeal from the Exchequer Chamber to Parliament. An amending Act, The Error Act, 1588, 31 Eliz c1, provided that a plaintiff in error against a judgment in King's Bench might "at his election" sue in Parliament rather than in Exchequer Chamber, but error still lay direct from the King's Bench to the House of Lords in all proceedings other than in those specified in these Acts. The right to sue in "Error" in criminal cases was abolished by the Criminal Appeal Act of 1907 which granted leave to appeal directly to the House of Lords, but only with the permission of the Attorney-General.
The resumption of judicial powers by the Lords in 1621 arose from the Commons impeachment of Mompesson, followed by the House of Lords' attempt in the case of Floyd to try a criminal case itself. This led to the Lords' judgment in the case on 26 March 1621, and on 29 May to the appointment of a Lords Committee to consider petitions. To this committee (afterwards known as the Appeal Committee) were referred subsequent complaints against lower courts and also all requests for original hearings. Furthermore in 1621 Bourchier's case raised the issue of whether the Lords had the right to receive appeals from the equitable jurisdiction of the Chancellor. Although a committee of the Lords reported that there were no precedents for hearing such appeals, a number of petitions asking for review of decrees in Chancery were presented to the Lords in subsequent years, and in 1640 the Lords reversed a decree of the Chancellor. After the Restoration, the House asserted its right to hear appeals from Chancery. This was challenged by the Commons in the case of Shirley v Fagg in 1675, but opposition eventually ceased, and the Lords retained the jurisdiction.
The Judicial Office was created in 1854 along with the other administrative offices of the House. Previously the work had been carried out within the Parliament Office. The 1850 report of the Select Committee on the Office of the Clerk of the Parliaments etc [HL/PO/1/53/10] refers to the business of the Judicial Department being carried out by a Chief Clerk, three junior clerks, a summoning officer and a keeper of the registers, with three additional part-time assistants.
An Official Reporter of cases was not appointed until the 19th century. Prior to that there had been separate reporters covering English and Irish, and Scottish cases. They were paid by the printers for their work, and as there was less revenue gained from Scottish cases, many were not printed. It should be noted that some cases of Scottish origin are referred to as being from North Britain.
The inclusion of the Supreme Court within a country's legislative body was highly unusual and existed in the House of Lords due to precedent dating from the 13th century. In 2003 the Government announced the intended creation of a separate Supreme Court for the United Kingdom as part of a Department for Constitutional Affairs. The Supreme Court was established by Part 3 of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, as part of the Ministry of Justice and assumed responsibility for the judicial functions of the House of Lords. It began work on 1 October 2009 and is based in Middlesex Guildhall, Westminster, London.
- Acquisition: Transferred from the House of Lords Judicial Office in series of accessions.
- Description: The records represent the work of the Judicial Office and that of the Law Lords which it supports.
Appeal Committee Memoranda may be found in HL/PO/JU/1. Appeal Committee Draft Reports may be found in HL/PO/JU/2. Registers of Appearances may be found in HL/PO/JU/3. HL/PO/JU/4 contains Appeal Cases, of particular interest being HL/PO/JU/4/3 which is fully indexed by case name from 1702 to 2001. Bills of Costs (case expenses) and accompanying papers may be found in HL/PO/JU/5. Judicial Clerks' notebooks may be found in HL/PO/JU/6. Registers and Indexes of Causes set down for hearing may be found in HL/PO/JU/7. Causes set down for hearing may be found in HL/PO/JU/8. HL/PO/JU/9 contains Recognisance Registers of the sums of money pledged by the appellant as surety against losing the case. Administrative records tracking the Progress of Appeals may be found in HL/PO/JU/10. Printed Appeal Cases based on Writs of Error may be found in HL/PO/JU/11. Registers of Proceedings in Appeals and Causes in Error may be found in HL/PO/JU/12. Judicial Minutes giving a brief note of the days business may be found in HL/PO/JU/13. Proceedings of the Appellate Committees, with a description of how the Appeal system functions may be found in HL/PO/JU/14. Appeal Case Record Books may be found in HL/PO/JU/15. Registers of Draft Judgments may be found in HL/PO/JU/16. Appeal Committee Minutes may be found in HL/PO/JU/17. Manuscript and Printed Opinions and Judgments which give the full opinions of the Law Lords may be found in HL/PO/JU/18. Printed Judgments in Causes which give a useful and concise summary of the outcome of a case may be found in HL/PO/JU/19. Manuscript Judgments in Causes for the 18th and early 19th century may also be found in HL/PO/JU/20. HL/PO/JU/21 contains Reference Material and additional papers. Registers of Costs in Appeals may be found in HL/PO/JU/22.
Appeal cases [HL/PO/JU/4/3] contain the evidence offered by the appellant along with the argument and interpretation put by their legal defence. As a general rule, the cases do not contain the original petition, which may be found amongst the House of Lords Main Papers as the documents were laid on the table [HL/PO/JO/10]. Similarly, the Appeal Cases do not contain the Judgment or the Opinion on a case. The Judgment is a brief statement giving the Law Lords' verdict and modern cases may be found at HL/PO/JU/18. The Opinion is a much more detailed explanation of the Law Lords' ruling, and comprises a full statement written by each Law Lord who heard the case, explaining their findings and so gives a comprehensive argument supporting the ruling. Modern opinions may be found via www.parliament.uk from 14 November 1996.
See HL/PO/JU/14 for a description of how the Appeal system functions. These volumes may be consulted in conjunction with HL/PO/JU/18 which contains opinions and Judgments arranged chronologically from 1839 to the late 1970s. Although HL/PO/JU/4/3 does not contain the printed outcome of the case, many of the 18th and 19th century cases have the judgment endorsed in manuscript upon the final page of the Appeal. For Opinions and Judgments from 1640-1693 see the Parchment Collection and for Judgments from 1759-1844 see HL/PO/JU/20. HL/PO/JU/18 gives the full opinions of the Law Lords.
HL/PO/JU/38 contains Petition for Leave index cards which were a Judicial tracking/finding aid and relate to the petitions in the Main Papers Series (HL/PO/JO/10/)
c1854-1874 Edward Meredith Parratt
1874-1895 Augustus William Dubourg
1895-1902 Edward Fairfax Taylor
1902-1908 Felix James Harvey Skene
1908-1919 Henry Percy St John
1920-1941 Henry John Fanshawe Badeley
1941-1945 Granville Proby
1946-1953 Victor Martin Reeves Goodman
1953-1958 Geoffrey Hugh Eastwood
1959-1977 Richard Philip Cave
1978-1983 JVD Webb
1984-2002 James Vallance White
2002-2009 Brendan Keith
- Accruals: Judicial functions moved to the Supreme Court in 2009. Therefore no further accurals are expected.
- Language: English and Latin
- System of Arrangement: Original office order has been retained.
- Related Material: Some early administrative material may also be found in HL/PO/1. Opinions and Judgments from the 17th century (fore-runners of series HL/PO/JU/18-20) may be found in the Parchment Collection. Petitions for leave to appeal, opinions and other papers related to Appeal Cases, as reported to the House, may be found with the House of Lords Main Papers in HL/PO/JO/10. GUR/45 contained a copy of the Appeallate Jurisdiction Act 1876. HL/PO/PB/18/2/5 contains the Papers of Parliamentary Agents, including blank recognisances. Records of the Court of Appeal and other lower courts are held by the National Archives at Kew.
- Related Record:
- Access Status: Open
- Access Conditions: Records are closed for thirty years unless otherwise stated. From 2005, requests for access under Freedom of Information will be considered.
- Copies Exist: HL/PO/JU/4/3, HL/PO/JU/8 and HL/PO/JU/18 are also available online from 1996 onwards via www.parliament.uk under Judicial work.
- Publication Notes: "Erskine May's Treatise on The Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament" ed Sir Donald Limon and W R McKay (London, 1997, 22nd edition) pp60-63; p201. M F Bond, "Guide to the Records of Parliament" (London, 1971), pp106-126. Judicial Office Information Sheets. AS Turburville, "The House of Lords as a Court of Law, 1784-1837", Law Quarterly Review, Apr 1936, pp189-219.