Summer exhibition 2014

A Court at the Crossroads of Empire: Stories from the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council

Opening times

Friday 1 August until Friday 26 September 2014 (weekdays only, except Bank Holiday Monday)
0930 to 1630
Lobby, Second Floor
Free admission

Shah 'Alam (Mughal Emperor 1759-1806) conveying the grant of the Diwani to Lord Clive, August 1765. The grant of Diwani rights gave the East India Company the power to collect taxes on behalf of the Emperor from the eastern province of Bengal-Bihar-Orissa. The agreement marked the beginnings of British rule in India, which would be accompanied by the right of appeal to the JCPC. © The British Library Board
Shah 'Alam (Mughal Emperor 1759-1806) conveying the grant of the Diwani to Lord Clive, August 1765. The grant of Diwani rights gave the East India Company the power to collect taxes on behalf of the Emperor from the eastern province of Bengal-Bihar-Orissa. The agreement marked the beginnings of British rule in India, which would be accompanied by the right of appeal to the JCPC. © The British Library Board

Exhibition overview

This year's summer exhibition will focus 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 exhibition will be situated in the Second Floor Lobby area, and will be free to visit during normal opening hours from Friday 1 August 2014 until Friday 26 September, when the exhibition will close ready for the start of the new legal year.

The exhibition uses a range of case studies to explore how the JCPC served as an evolving hub of the British Empire - both shaping and shaped by a wide range of different cultures and communities - and how the judges serving on the JCPC applied the common law to both translate and mediate at the crossroads of Britain's colonial interests.

The case studies have been specifically chosen to allude to the personal stories behind interesting legal questions, such as:

  • The British doctor working in Ghana in the 1920s charged with the murder of his wife and tried under local Ashanti regulations without defence counsel, without a jury, and without right of appeal (the procedures which applied for indigenous Ghanaians at the time). His subsequent conviction and death sentence sparked an outcry in Britain. While the doctor's appeal to the JCPC was allowed on different grounds and his death sentence commuted, his case drew attention to the harsh nature of criminal procedures for African defendants, and helped encourage the Ashanti government to change due process in British West Africa.
  • The 'famous five' Canadian women who, in 1930, successfully challenged their Supreme Court's decision that women were ineligible to hold seats in the Canadian Senate under British North America Act 1867. The litigation was one of a number of cases which encouraged the JCPC to rebalance power back to the Canadian provinces in light of experiences of Canadians 'on the ground', despite the Constitution Act's emphasis on central control.
  • The African protestor in Southern Rhodesia imprisoned under regulations passed by the white settler colony's legislative council after its unilateral declaration of independence from Britain. The protestor should have been freed after the JCPC's assertion of the sovereignty of the British parliament and declaration that the emergency regulations were invalid, but he remained a political prisoner for another nine years.

Although the space available and desire to engage a broad audience means the exhibition is necessarily concise in presentation, the range of stories touch on complex topics including the relationship between colonial governments and the wider international legal order, the role of both advocates and judges as 'representatives' of their jurisdictions, and the tensions between principles of legal equality and the practice of politicised justice.

At the heart of the exhibition sits an interactive 'globe', where visitors are invited to select from a number of countries formerly and currently served by the JCPC which most interest them. Information about that country's links with the JCPC will then show on a touchscreen terminal.

The exhibition material has been prepared by a team of academics from across the UK led by Dr Charlotte L. Smith from the University of Reading's School of Law and Dr Nandini Chatterjee and Dr Stacey Hynd from the University of Exeter's Department of History. Other contributors include Shane Doyle (University of Leeds), Stephanie Jones (University of Southampton), Assaf Likhovski (Tel Aviv University), Catharine MacMillan (University of Reading), John McAleer (University of Southampton), Diana Paton (Newcastle University), David Schorr (Tel Aviv University), John Strawson (University of East London), Carol Tan (SOAS) and Mark Wilde (University of Reading).

We are also grateful to the following organizations who have given generously of staff time and funding to make this exhibition a reality:

Back to top


Public lectures

A limited number of free public tickets are available for two lectures planned to complement the exhibition. This offers the chance to hear from eminent academics on two stimulating topics related to aspects of the history of the JCPC, and a private view of the exhibition with a complimentary drink. Details of the two events can be found below.

In order to book tickets, please email Enquiries with your name and contact details, and how many tickets in total you would like (you may request up to two guest tickets, so a maximum of three tickets per booking). As we expect considerable interest in these events, we would ask that people only attend one of the two: if you are able and interested in attending either event, please make this clear in your email and indicate for which lecture you have a preference.

We will be in touch with successful applicants and issue invitations to bring on the evening. We will be unable to admit unsuccessful applicants on the evening, but we will hold a reserve list in the event of returns and will contact you if tickets become available. Doors will open at 5.30pm on both evenings, for a prompt 6pm start.

Opening lecture, Thursday 31 July 2014, 6pm*

* All the tickets for this lecture have now been allocated.

If you would like to add your name to the reserve list in the event of returns, please email Enquiries. There are still tickets available for the Closing lecture on Thursday 25 September 2014. Please see below for details.

"Empire, Lawyers, and the Rule of Law"
  • Prof David M Anderson, University of Warwick
  • With opening of exhibition by Lady Hale

The lecture will begin sharply at 6pm and finish with a drinks reception.

Kindly sponsored by the University of Exeter


Closing lecture, Thursday 25 September 2014, 6pm

"Supervising the Administration of Justice in Empire:
The Judicial Committee and Disciplining Colonial Judges"
  • Prof John McLaren, University of Victoria

The lecture will begin sharply at 6pm and finish with a drinks reception.

Kindly sponsored by the University of Reading and the Journal of Legal History.

Back to top


Educational debate days

In association with Streetlaw at the University of Reading, we will be hosting a series of Debate Days this September to run alongside the exhibition.

Six sessions have been arranged for groups of Year 12/13 students studying law and/or politics in schools and colleges in the areas close to the University of Reading and the University of Exeter. During the course of these days, students will learn about the JCPC's history and have the chance to debate the issue behind one of the most high profile cases to come before it.

The programme will encourage students to develop their evaluative and critical thinking skills, by using real life case studies in an exciting environment to construct robust arguments for their debate. Students also will develop leadership and collaborative skills in this process.

We are grateful to Blandy and Blandy LLP, Field Seymour Parkes LLP and Harrison Clark Rickerbys Limited, whose financial contributions have enabled us to offer the Debate Days free of charge to the participating schools and colleges.

Back to top