Skip to main content

A professional court

By 1834 the number of English appeals considered by the House of Lords exceeded Scottish appeals, and the increasing professionalisation of the Lords' appellate work meant it began to assume an important role in shaping English law.

The failure to produce a reliable number of legally-qualified Members of the Lords, however, was criticised by a legal profession which now expected the House of Lords to function as a professional court. Several moves to rectify this, by creating the first life Peers, as well as attempts to reform or abolish the House of Lords' right to consider judicial appeals, failed due to changes of government and internal opposition.

Finally, in 1876, a Conservative Lord Chancellor introduced the Appellate Jurisdiction Bill. This passed through both Houses without much opposition and received Royal Assent in August 1876.

Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876

Under the Appellate Jurisdiction Act the right of the Lords to consider judicial appeals was maintained but more strictly regulated. Most significantly, the Act allowed the Sovereign to appoint several Lords of Appeal in Ordinary (commonly known as "Law Lords"). These were professional salaried judges appointed specifically to consider appeals, and appeals were heard by them as well as by other Members of the Lords with judicial experience. The Act came into force in 1877. Lord Blackburn, an English judge, and Lord Gordon of Drumearn, a Scottish judge, were appointed the first two Law Lords.

The Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1913 permitted the appointment of two additional Lords of Appeal in Ordinary, mainly to ease the increased burden on the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council created by the growing number of appeals from the newly self-governing Dominions.

Another Law Lord was appointed under the Appellate Jurisdiction Act of 1929, while the right of appeal to the House was limited by the Administration of Justice (Appeals) Act 1934.

Glossary links

Did you know?

No judicial robes were worn by the Law Lords during hearings