Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, London

Privy Council Decisions Documents

IALS holds an important collection of documents from the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and is working on a project to raise the discoverability, visibility and usability of the documents.

The Judicial Committee of The Privy Council is the court of final appeal for the UK overseas territories and Crown dependencies and for those Commonwealth countries that have retained the appeal to Her Majesty in Council or, in the case of Republics, to the Judicial Committee. It has decided cases across a wide range of legal topics such as: admiralty, constitutional and ecclesiastical matters, contract, murder, status of persons; and had a key role in the export and assimilation of common law around the world. Countries include: Aden, Antigua, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Basutoland, Bermuda, Canada, Ceylon, Cyprus, Dominica, Fiji, Ghana, Gibraltar, Gold Coast, Great Britain, Guernsey, Guyana, Hong Kong, India, Jamaica, Jersey, Kenya, Lesotho, Malaya, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritius, New Zealand, Nigeria, Palestine, Rhodesia, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Somaliland, Tanganyika, Trinidad and Tobago and Uganda. Historically it was the supreme appellate court of the British Empire, whose decisions also provided valid precedents for British courts.

In 2010/2011 a collection of Judgment texts from the Committee's Library in Downing Street was scanned and included in the BAILII Privy Council Decisions database. A special collection of rare related records and documents is held by IALS in paper only. These texts are far more detailed than the 8,000 reported decisions. They include: the case for the appellant and the case for the respondent prepared by their solicitors and records of pleadings and prior court proceedings.

IALS holds paper copies of the records of appeals to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, which were originally sent from the Privy Council office. There are many Canadian appeals and selected appeals from over 35 other countries. For most cases, the documents held at IALS are the Judgment (J), Case for the appellant (A), Case for the respondent (R), and Pleadings (P).

IALS digitisation of additional case papers from Judicial Committee of the Privy Council Decisions

Thanks to an award from the School of Advanced Study’s Strategic Development Fund, IALS has been able to digitise many of the additional case papers it holds relating to historic Judicial Committee of the Privy Council decisions. Over 5,000 searchable PDFs have been created involving more than 317,000 page scans.

Case papers from the IALS collection from 1935 -1985 (effectively a full paper set from 1950 to 1985) and some selected papers from earlier judgments of special interest to researchers have been included in the project.


The digitised papers (case for the appellant, case for the respondent, record of proceedings, factums and appendices) are now available as searchable PDF files alongside the judgment texts already freely available on BAILII

We believe that this project will benefit the legal community on several levels and make a valuable contribution to facilitating further research initiatives in the UK and overseas in the areas of Commonwealth legal and cultural development, and additionally extend the scope of wider open access information delivery.

Image of page one of case commentary by Professor Catharine MacMillan

Canadian Cases before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council

Cases commentary by Professor Catharine MacMillan,
Professor of Law and Legal History,University of Reading. 

Comments welcome: c.macmillan@reading.ac.uk

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The project has been funded by an award in 2014-2015 from the School of Advanced Study’s Strategic Development Fund. The project will form a basis on which further work can be built - providing a service to which other Privy Council materials and holdings could be linked or added.


IALS holdings have been recorded previously on catalogue cards. There is a chronological sequence of cards arrange by year from 1800 to 1990. There is also a card catalogue sequence arranged in alphabetical order by country, sub-arranged by year and within year by judgment number. Data on the cards includes: names of the parties involved, year and judgment number, year and appeal number and country, as well as an indication of which type of document is held by IALS for each case. This data is being transferred to a freely available online finding tool in development, the Privy Council Decisions Documents Directory.

Collections of complementary paper records and documents are held by The Honourable Society of Lincoln's Inn Library and the British Library and The National Archives. The Judging Empire: the global reach of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council research project was undertaken at the University of Plymouth and some work is continuing at the University of Exeter. Preliminary work on a Privy Council Papers Online service was undertaken by University of Plymouth, University of Reading and King's College, London.

The Supreme Court Summer exhibition 2014 (Friday 1 August 2014 until Friday 26 September 2014) focused on the role of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council from its modern formation in 1833 to the emergence of the Commonwealth in the 1950s.

The Ames Foundation, Harvard Law School has developed an Annotated Digital Catalogue of Appeals to the Privy Council from the American Colonies, featuring a number of 18th Century decisions.

For further background information on the case papers at IALS see: the IALS Blog and Unburied Treasure: revealing some lesser-known items in the IALS Global Law Library