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Appellate Committee of The House of Lords

Appellate Committee of The House of Lords

The judicial role of the House of Lords evolved over more than 600 years: originally from the work of the royal court, the “Curia Regis”, which advised the sovereign, passed laws and dispensed justice at the highest level. 

Until 1399, both Houses of Parliament heard petitions for the judgments of lower courts to be reversed. After this date, the House of Commons stopped considering such cases, leaving the House of Lords as the highest court of appeal. (By custom, the whole House of Lords could sit as a court on special occasions, such as the trial of one of their own members).

In 1876, the Appellate Jurisdiction Act was passed to regulate how appeals were heard.  It also appointed Lords of Appeal in Ordinary: highly qualified professional judges working full time on the judicial business of the House. These Law Lords were able to vote on legislation as full Members of the House of Lords, but in practice rarely did so.

Before the second world war, the Law Lords used to hear appeals each day in the chamber of the House of Lords.

After the House of Commons was bombed, the Law Lords moved their hearings to a nearby committee room to escape the noise of the building repairs, constituting themselves as an Appellate Committee for the purpose. In fact, this temporary arrangement proved so successful that it became permanent, and continued for the remainder of the Appellate Committee’s life. 

On the commencement of the Supreme Court in October 2009, all current Law Lords became its first Justices.

The first Justices remain Members of the House of Lords, but are unable to sit and vote in the House.  All new Justices appointed after October 2009 have been directly appointed to The Supreme Court on the recommendation of a selection commission.