Historical and legal contexts of the Privy Council appeals

As the apex imperial court, sitting in London, with jurisdiction over a large portion of the world’s population but producing no binding precedents for English courts, a global beacon of law and modernity which also heard ecclesiastical appeals and delivered its judgement in the form of advice to the monarch – the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) and it history encapsulates all the complexities and contradictions that marked modern Britain as an imperial nation. One of the key aims of this project is to encourage greater research, analysis and awareness about this historic institution and its complex, global role. There is much to be learnt from the records of the JCPC about Britain, empire, and specific areas and countries within that empire, about economic transactions and networks, cultural difference and transformations, property and familial relations, violence and resistance to it. Above all, however, the records open a window into expectations of rights and wrongs, justice and injustice expressed and demanded not only by the predominantly British judges (although non-British judges were a significant presence from the late nineteenth century onwards), but also by the thousands of English, Irish, West Indian, Indian, Australian, New Zealander and African appellants to this court. These essays below offer some road-signs into that imperial landscape.

These essays represent work in progress. While we request the indulgence of readers as we develop and refine them, we would welcome any feedback or suggestions regarding material included and analytical approaches taken.