Judicature Act 1873
The Judicature Act 1873
was a law passed by the British Parliament in 1873. It reorganized the English court system to establish the High Court and the Court of Appeal. It also originally provided for the abolition of the judicial functions of the House of Lords with respect to England (although under the act it would have retained those functions in relation to Scotland and Northern Ireland for the time being.) However, the Gladstone government fell in 1874 before its entry into force, and the succeeding Disraeli government suspended the entry into force of the Act by means of acts passed in 1874 and 1875. The Lord Chancellor in the Disraeli government sought to remove the House of Lords jurisdiction for Scottish and Irish appeals as well, which would have completely removed its judicial jurisdiction. However, the Lord Chancellor could not muster the necessary support in the Parliament for the bill in 1874 nor when he reintroduced it in 1875. Finally, when it became clear that the English legal profession was firmly opposed to the reform proposals, the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876 removed the provisions for the abolition of the judicial functions of the House of Lords, although it retained the provisions that established the High Court and the Court of Appeal.
Thus the United Kingdom retains to this day the strange system by which the Upper House of its Parliament was also one of the country's highest courts. The Labour party's former policy of abolishing the House of Lords completely would have resolved this, and in the longer term the party's current policy of House of Lords reform may well also see the House's judicial functions abolished. Some have also expressed concerns that the judicial functions of the House of Lords may violate the European Convention on Human Rights, since the Law Lords can participate in framing legislation, and as such may not be an "independent and impartial tribunal" under article 6 of that Convention.
The House of Lords may increasingly have a competitor for itself in the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. Up until 1998, that court was mainly restricted to hearing cases from former British colonies, such as New Zealand and several nations in the West Indies; its domestic jurisdiction was very limited. However, with devolution in 1998, the Judicial Committee now has the power to deal with all questions of the validity of acts of the devolved institutions.