Privy Council Papers

[Unfortunate update and correction: It looks like I jumped the gun on this one: the JCPC records are *not* yet open for business, after all. Keep an eye on this entry. Hopefully one day the long wait will be over…]

Big news after a decade of waiting! I am sharing it cautiously, as I’ve not been able to get to London to see this for myself.

The records of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council used to live at the Privy Council Office on Downing Street, where the court continues to sit. In addition to being the apex court for ecclesiastical and admiralty jurisdictions, the JCPC was the final court of appeal for the British Empire. In 2003-7, I did my dissertation research and then some postdoctoral work at the court’s Downing Street site. The records were out-of-this-world fantastic. They were printed but unpublished, and were mainly case papers (organized by year and then case no.). To give you a sense of these treasures: the published judgment for the 1925 Rangoon case of Saklat v. Bella in the law reports was 16 pages long. But the JCPC printed case papers for the same case were 1000+ pages long. These case papers included exhibits, trial transcripts, and judgments from every level of court that dealt with the case. They were so rich and juicy that I wrote my whole dissertation about this one case, which was an intra-community dispute about a Parsi temple trust.

Scholars working on many parts of the British Empire have discovered these records over the past decade. Some great online resources have also been created. In the UK, there is the University of Exeter’s Privy Council Papers website. The Ames Foundation at Harvard hosts this website. There is also the BAILLI website.

For the past decade, though, the JCPC records from Downing Street have been unavailable because they were being moved to the National Archives at Kew.

Many of us inquired at Kew and watched the National Archives website with anticipation. Some of the JCPC records were available at the British Library and at Lincoln’s Inn Library, apparently. But neither seemed to be a complete set.

At last, it appears that the JCPC collection is now open for business at its new homeHere is the National Archives catalogue entry.

Please let me know if you are able to see these records for yourself!