The Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (IALS) makes Case Papers from the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council freely available on BAILII

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In a letter of July 19 1950 now in the IALS Archives, George Curtis (Founding Dean of the Faculty of Law, University of British Columbia Vancouver, Canada) sought help from Professor David Hughes Parry (Director, Institute of Advanced Legal Studies) in obtaining case papers from two notable Canadian Appeals to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London.

Bonanza Creek Gold Mining Co. v The King (Appeal 61 of 1915; Judgment 11, 1916 ) and

Toronto Electric Commissioners v Snider (Appeal 99 of 1924; Judgment 2, 1925 )

Dean Curtis, a friend and host for Professor David Hughes Parry’s lecture tour of North America in the autumn of 1949, drew special attention to the current and future research value of the case papers generally: “Their value to us would be so very great that I would like to make an effort to collect as many as possible […] I think that as the years go by this sort of material for research and teaching purposes would be very valuable indeed”.

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.  As well, the Privy Council hears some appeals within the UK. Historically,  it was the supreme appellate court of the British Empire, whose decisions also provided persuasive authority in British courts. 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.

In drafting its Statement of Development Policy for the Quinquennium (1952-1957), the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies made provision to acquire the Canadian Law Library – a large library which included many papers from the Canadian appeals to the Privy Council and was owned by the Canadian Government and had been maintained in London for many years for the use of Counsel appearing before the Privy Council. Once the Canadian government abolished propectively the right to appeal to the Privy Council in 1949, with the last Canadian appeal being issued in 1960, a purchase was made and the library was added to the Institute’s collections in 1953. The purchase drew on a £3,000 reserve of funding from a £10,000 Nuffield Foundation grant made to the IALS to help in developing a unique national collection of Commonwealth law.

Subsequent arrangements over the years with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council itself built a comprehensive collection at the Institute of JCPC Appeal case papers for many former colonies and Commonwealth jurisdictions including: 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.

Now, in 2015, case papers held in the collection at IALS from both the key Canadian Privy Council Appeals highlighted by Dean Curtis are being made freely available online – included in an important project at the IALS which is making case papers from more than 1,400 Privy Council Appeals from many Commonwealth countries available on the British and Irish Legal Information Institute (BAILII) service alongside the judgment texts

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.

These substantial papers (case for the appellant, case for the respondent, record of proceedings, factums and appendices) are often extensive documents giving far more detail than the judgment itself. They are records of the law in action, providing an insight into a wide range of public, personal, social, and human issues.  They also reveal the foresight of the JCPC in a practical commitment to the recognition of diversity in culture and religious belief; in seeking to ensure environmental protection; to safeguard individual dignity and support the wider international legal order.

We plan to add brief notes highlighting, as examples, the significance of some case papers to particular research and legal development and share those examples through linked public events at IALS – highlighting thematic interests and ways in which the more readily available case papers will form a basis on which further work can be built. Professor Catharine MacMillan and Dr Charlotte Smith of the University of Reading and Dr Nandini Chatterjee of the University of Exeter are kindly helping us as research advisors to the project.

We believe that this project will benefit the research community and public knowledge on several levels and make a valuable contribution to facilitating further 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.

The IALS project and development on BAILII also serves as a pilot project for a potentially larger collaborative initiative that LLMC and partners are planning if necessary funding can be secured in the USA. That will build on the collection of images created here and aim to create a comprehensive online collection of JCPC case papers.

Steven Whittle
Information Systems Manager
Institute of Advanced Legal Studies
University of London