THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Social Science blog

Exploring Social Science at the British Library

Introduction

Find out about social sciences at the British Library including collections, events and research. This blog includes contributions from curators and guest posts by academics, students and practitioners. Read more

03 January 2018

The Persistence of Gender Inequality

A Summary of the Annual Equality Lecture 2017 by Professor Mary Evans

At the end of October 2017 we hosted our seventh annual Equality Lecture in partnership with the British Sociological Association. We were really delighted that the lecture this year was given by Professor Mary Evans, who has been central to the development of women’s and gender studies in the UK, and a prolific writer and academic on all aspects of gender in society. Her work has covered diverse topics such as love, detective fiction, austerity, autobiography, social class and higher education, Jane Austen, and has examined how social actions and actors are formed and structured within the social world.

Professor Evans drew on her recent book ‘The Persistence of Gender Inequality’ (Polity, 2016) to show how gender inequality is being reproduced in contemporary society, but is taking new forms. She began by making the point that gender as well as race, have been largely ignored in those major recent works (for example, by Thomas Piketty) which seek to address inequality. She argued that the connection between class inequalities, as shaped by gender and race, need to be brought to the fore if we are to understand the forms that unequal social relationships take in the contemporary western world.

WEB Equality Lecture Mary and John credit Sam Lane

Professor Mary Evans taking audience questions with event chair, Professor John Horne. Photo credit Sam Lane for The British Library Board.

She suggested that in the past forty years particular forms of social change have enlarged and reshaped inequality including:

‘the dissolution of some forms of class boundaries; the creation of a new social contract and with it a new version of the ‘ideal citizen’ and the expectations of women’s appearance and conduct.’

Evans described these latter two changes as constituting a form of ‘aspirational coercion’ which has a particular effect on four central forms of inequality between men and women, which are:

‘inequalities of income, public power, responsibility for care and; forms and means of representation, all of which are experienced in different ways according to difference in class and race.’

The notion of who counts as ‘middle-class’ and assumptions about middle-class personhood and values in contemporary neoliberal western societies such as the UK, were shown by Evans to be important to her idea of ‘aspirational coercion’.

On the one hand traditional markers of ‘middle-classness’ are increasingly uncertain; on the other, the middle-class to whom politicians often refer could be more accurately described as the ‘upper middle-class’.

Evans argued that in the UK, it is in fact, upper middle-class white men who remain dominant in elite professions, ‘high’ culture and politics. Yet, it is this particular version of elite autonomy, financial reward and social mastery that have become central to the notion of the ideal contemporary citizen whom she named: ‘the master of the universe’.

‘Being a commander of men has always dominated the aspirations of the ruling class but what interests me here is that we get to the point here where it intersects with gender in the way in which this idea of the powerful autonomous individual, replete with choice and agency has now become generalised as a human ideal.’

Evans suggested that very few people, men or women, of any race, ever get to occupy the position of ‘master of the universe’ but that this fantasy has a very real impact on the way in which people, and especially women, are recognised and ascribed social value. As paid work becomes the ‘gold standard’ as part of the fantasy status of ‘autonomous subject’, the unpaid work of caring for others, which remains overwhelmingly work done by women, becomes value-less:

‘The ‘master of the universe’ […] the specialist, the highly skilled, is essentially […] care-less. So with ‘success’ goes distance from care: a social association which establishes a connection between high achievement and being care-less, and being a low achiever and doing care.’

  WEB Equality Lecture audience credit Sam Lane
Audience questions at the Equality Lecture. Photo credit Sam Lane for The British Library Board.

The second issue of ‘aspirational coercion’ is around consumption as a route to, and marker of, female emancipation. The inability to participate in social expectations around consumption become a marker of lacking, and therefore source of personal shame, such that for women living in poverty, consumption has done very little to narrow class difference or experience. At the same time, consumption is a site for control and coercion around the shape and appearance of the female body. In this, the standards about the appearance of the female body are presented in ways which are connected to an ideal about an autonomous, emancipated, culturally hegemonic female subject. An ideal subject very far removed from the reality of most women’s lives, both in the west and in developing nations.

Professor Evans finished her lecture with a reminder of the need to think about gender and social inequality together, to enable us to understand what is being called the ‘new form of capitalism’. The idea of ‘aspirational coercion’ is important to understanding the relationship between individuals and capitalism which shape who is able to participate as an autonomous subject. And autonomy remains largely determined by new forms of this interplay between class, gender and race.

Further information;

Watch a video of Mary’s lecture here.

Listen to a podcast of Mary's lecture here.

Read a short piece by Mary on her lecture here

21 December 2017

John Pilger: Why the documentary must not be allowed to die

Last month, we announced the acquisition of a digital archive of John Pilger’s published work. This archive covers John Pilger’s career, bringing together some 60 films, 90 radio broadcasts and more than 1,400 articles written for newspapers and current affairs magazines. The collection reflects the interests that have influenced John Pilger’s career, including international affairs, the operation of power and giving voice to ordinary people. Bringing these materials together in one place, in digital form, creates huge potential for research and highlights the significance of independent investigative journalism of the highest quality. John Pilger has twice been named Journalist of the Year by the British Journalism Awards, and his films have won BAFTA awards in the UK and Emmy awards in the US. On Saturday and Sunday 9- 10 December, the British Library held a documentary festival to celebrate the acquisition of this archive, and also to feature other documentaries chosen by John Pilger as fine examples of the documentary craft. On Saturday, John gave a talk on ‘The Power of the Documentary’. An edited version of this address follows below, with kind permission of John Pilger.

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Why the documentary must not be allowed to die

by John Pilger

I first understood the power of the documentary during the editing of my first film, The Quiet Mutiny. In the commentary, I make reference to a chicken, which my crew and I encountered while on patrol with American soldiers in Vietnam.

“It must be a Vietcong chicken – a communist chicken,” said the sergeant. He wrote in his report: “enemy sighted”.

The chicken moment seemed to underline the farce of the war – so I included it in the film. That may have been unwise. The regulator of commercial television in Britain – then the Independent Television Authority or ITA – had demanded to see my script. What was my source for the political affiliation of the chicken? I was asked. Was it really a communist chicken, or could it have been a pro-American chicken?

Of course, this nonsense had a serious purpose; when The Quiet Mutiny was broadcast by ITV in 1970, the US ambassador to Britain, Walter Annenberg, a personal friend of President Richard Nixon, complained to the ITA. He complained not about the chicken but about the whole film. “I intend to inform the White House,” the ambassador wrote. Gosh.

The Quiet Mutiny had revealed that the US army in Vietnam was tearing itself apart. There was open rebellion:  drafted men were refusing orders and shooting their officers in the back or “fragging” them with grenades as they slept.

None of this had been news. What it meant was that the war was lost; and the messenger was not appreciated.

The Director-General of the ITA was Sir Robert Fraser. He summoned Denis Foreman, then Director of Programmes at Granada TV, and went into a state of apoplexy. Spraying expletives, Sir Robert described me as a “dangerous subversive”.

What concerned the regulator and the ambassador was the power of a single documentary film: the power of its facts and witnesses: especially young soldiers speaking the truth and treated sympathetically by the film-maker.

I was a newspaper journalist. I had never made a film before and I was indebted to Charles Denton, a renegade producer from the BBC, who taught me that facts and evidence told straight to the camera and to the audience could indeed be subversive.

This subversion of official lies is the power of documentary. I have now made 60 films and I believe there is nothing like this power in any other medium.

In the 1960s, a brilliant young film-maker, Peter Watkins, made The War Game for the BBC. Watkins reconstructed the aftermath of a nuclear attack on London.

The War Game was banned. “The effect of this film,” said the BBC, “has been judged to be too horrifying for the medium of broadcasting.” The then chairman of the BBC’s Board of Governors was Lord Normanbrook, who had been Secretary to the Cabinet. He wrote to his successor in the Cabinet, Sir Burke Trend: “The War Game is not designed as propaganda: it is intended as a purely factual statement and is based on careful research into official material … but the subject is alarming, and the showing of the film on television might have a significant effect on public attitudes towards the policy of the nuclear deterrent.”

In other words, the power of this documentary was such that it might alert people to the true horrors of nuclear war and cause them to question the very existence of nuclear weapons.

The Cabinet papers show that the BBC secretly colluded with the government to ban Watkins’ film. The cover story was that the BBC had a responsibility to protect “the elderly living alone and people of limited mental intelligence”.

Most of the press swallowed this. The ban on The War Game ended the career of Peter Watkins in British television at the age of 30. This remarkable film-maker left the BBC and Britain, and angrily launched a worldwide campaign against censorship.

Telling the truth, and dissenting from the official truth, can be hazardous for a documentary film-maker.

In 1988, Thames Television broadcast Death on the Rock, a documentary about the war in Northern Ireland.  It was a risky and courageous venture. Censorship of the reporting of the so-called Irish Troubles was rife, and many of us in documentaries were actively discouraged from making films north of the border. If we tried, we were drawn into a quagmire of compliance.

The journalist Liz Curtis calculated that the BBC had banned, doctored or delayed some 50 major TV programmes on Ireland. There were, of course, honourable exceptions, such as John Ware. Roger Bolton, the producer of Death on the Rock, was another. Death on the Rock revealed that the British Government deployed SAS death squads overseas against the IRA, murdering four unarmed people in Gibraltar.

A vicious smear campaign was mounted against the film, led by the government of Margaret Thatcher and the Murdoch press, notably the Sunday Times, edited by Andrew Neil.

It was the only documentary ever subjected to an official inquiry -- and its facts were vindicated. Murdoch had to pay up for the defamation of one of the film’s principal witnesses.

But that wasn’t the end of it. Thames Television, one of the most innovative broadcasters in the world, was eventually stripped of its franchise in the United Kingdom.

Did the prime minister exact her revenge on ITV and the film-makers, as she had done to the miners? We don’t know. What we do know is that the power of this one documentary stood by the truth and, like The War Game, marked a high point in filmed journalism.

I believe great documentaries exude an artistic heresy. They are difficult to categorise. They are not like great fiction. They are not like great feature movies. Yet, they can combine the sheer power of both.

The Battle of Chile: the fight of an unarmed people, is an epic documentary by Patricio Guzman. It is an extraordinary film: actually a trilogy of films. When it was released in the 1970s, the New Yorker asked: “How could a team of five people, some with no previous film experience, working with one Éclair camera, one Nagra sound-recorder, and a package of black and white film, produce a work of this magnitude?”

Guzman’s documentary is about the overthrow of democracy in Chile in 1973 by fascists led by General Pinochet and directed by the CIA. Almost everything is filmed hand-held, on the shoulder. And remember this is a film camera, not video. You have to change the magazine every ten minutes, or the camera stops; and the slightest movement and change of light affects the image.

In the Battle of Chile, there is a scene at the funeral of a naval officer, loyal to President Salvador Allende, who was murdered by those plotting to destroy Allende’s reformist government. The camera moves among the military faces: human totems with their medals and ribbons, their coiffed hair and opaque eyes. The sheer menace of the faces says you are watching the funeral of a whole society: of democracy itself.

There is a price to pay for filming so bravely. The cameraman, Jorge Muller, was arrested and taken to a torture camp, where he “disappeared” until his grave was found many years later. He was 27. I salute his memory.

In Britain, the pioneering work of John Grierson, Denis Mitchell, Norman Swallow, Richard Cawston and other film-makers in the early 20th century crossed the great divide of class and presented another country. They dared put cameras and microphones in front of ordinary Britons and allowed them to talk in their own language.

John Grierson is said by some to have coined the term “documentary”. “The drama is on your doorstep,” he said in the 1920s, “wherever the slums are, wherever there is malnutrition, wherever there is exploitation and cruelty.”

These early British film-makers believed that the documentary should speak from below, not from above: it should be the medium of people, not authority. In other words, it was the blood, sweat and tears of ordinary people that gave us the documentary.

Denis Mitchell was famous for his portraits of a working-class street. “Throughout my career,” he said, “I have been absolutely astonished at the quality of people’s strength and dignity”. When I read those words, I think of the survivors of Grenfell Tower, most of them still waiting to be re-housed, all of them still waiting for justice, as the cameras move on to the repetitive circus of a royal wedding.

The late David Munro and I made Year Zero: the Silent Death of Cambodia in 1979. This film broke a silence about a country subjected to more than a decade of bombing and genocide, and its power involved millions of ordinary men, women and children in the rescue of a society on the other side of the world. Even now, Year Zero puts the lie to the myth that the public doesn’t care, or that those who do care eventually fall victim to something called “compassion fatigue”.

Year Zero was watched by an audience greater than the audience of the current, immensely popular British “reality” programme Bake Off. It was shown on mainstream TV in more than 30 countries, but not in the United States, where PBS rejected it outright, fearful, according to an executive, of the reaction of the new Reagan administration. In Britain and Australia, it was broadcast without advertising – the only time, to my knowledge, this has happened on commercial television.

Following the British broadcast, more than 40 sacks of post arrived at ATV’s offices in Birmingham, 26,000 first-class letters in the first post alone. Remember this was a time before email and Facebook. In the letters was £1 million – most of it in small amounts from those who could least afford to give. “This is for Cambodia,” wrote a bus driver, enclosing his week’s wages. Pensioners sent their pension. A single mother sent her savings of £50. People came to my home with toys and cash, and petitions for Thatcher and poems of indignation for Pol Pot and for his collaborator, President Richard Nixon, whose bombs had accelerated the fanatic’s rise.

For the first time, the BBC supported an ITV film. The Blue Peter programme asked children to “bring and buy” toys at Oxfam shops throughout the country. By Christmas, the children had raised the astonishing amount of £3,500,000. Across the world, Year Zero raised more than $55 million, mostly unsolicited, and which brought help directly to Cambodia: medicines, vaccines and the installation of an entire clothing factory that allowed people to throw away the black uniforms they had been forced to wear by Pol Pot. It was as if the audience had ceased to be onlookers and had become participants.

Something similar happened in the United States when CBS Television broadcast Edward R. Murrow’s film, Harvest of Shame, in 1960. This was the first time that many middle-class Americans glimpsed the scale of poverty in their midst.

Harvest of Shame is the story of migrant agricultural workers who were treated little better than slaves. Today, their struggle has such resonance as migrants and refugees fight for work and safety in foreign places. What seems extraordinary is that the children and grandchildren of some of the people in this film will be bearing the brunt of the abuse and strictures of President Trump.

In the United States today, there is no equivalent of Edward R. Murrow. His eloquent, unflinching kind of American journalism has been abolished in the so-called mainstream and has taken refuge in the internet.

Britain remains one of the few countries where documentaries are still shown on mainstream television in the hours when most people are still awake. But documentaries that go against the received wisdom are becoming an endangered species, at the very time we need them perhaps more than ever.
 
In survey after survey, when people are asked what they would like more of on television, they say documentaries. I don’t believe they mean a type of current affairs programme that is a platform for politicians and “experts” who affect a specious balance between great power and its victims. 
 
Observational documentaries are popular; but films about airports and motorway police do not make sense of the world. They entertain.
 
David Attenborough’s brilliant programmes on the natural world are making sense of climate change – belatedly.
 
The BBC’s Panorama is making sense of Britain’s secret support of jihadism in Syria – belatedly.
 
But why is Trump setting fire to the Middle East? Why is the West edging closer to war with Russia and China?
 
Mark the words of the narrator in Peter Watkins’ The War Game: “On almost the entire subject of nuclear weapons, there is now practically total silence in the press, and on TV. There is hope in any unresolved or unpredictable situation. But is there real hope to be found in this silence?”

In 2017, that silence has returned.

It is not news that the safeguards on nuclear weapons have been quietly removed and that the United States is now spending $4.6 million per hour on nuclear weapons: that’s $4.6 million every hour, 24 hours a day, every day. Who knows that?

The Coming War on China, which I completed last year, has been broadcast in the UK but not in the United States – where 90 per cent of the population cannot name or locate the capital of North Korea or explain why Trump wants to destroy it. China is next door to North Korea.

According to one “progressive” film distributor in the US, the American people are interested only in what she calls “character-driven” documentaries. This is code for a “look at me” consumerist cult that now consumes and intimidates and exploits so much of our popular culture, while turning away film-makers from a subject as urgent as any in modern times.

"When the truth is replaced by silence,” wrote the Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, “the silence is a lie."

Whenever young documentary film-makers ask me how they can “make a difference”, I reply that it is really quite simple. They need to break the silence.

19 December 2017

The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council: a short introduction, sources for research and appeal case metadata.

Over the next few weeks, here on the Social Science blog and on the Digital Scholarship blog, Jonathan Sims and Sarah Middle will discuss work done at the British Library to provide insights into appeal cases heard by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC).  

To start us off, here is some background about the Judicial Committee (JCPC) itself with signposts to resources to support your research, and a brief consideration of whether metadata describing Privy Council appeal cases and judgments can be exploited more effectively.

The court and its jurisdiction

The Privy Council has long acted as a final court of appeal for an extraordinarily wide range of legal cases including both civil and criminal appeals. Details of the wide jurisdiction, current role and powers of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) are set out on its website. Perhaps foremost among these is the Judicial Committee’s role to act as a final appeal court for a number of Commonwealth countries. Hearings are often filmed and made available online.

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Courtroom three at the Supreme Court, London

Today the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) shares a home with the Supreme Court at the Middlesex Guildhall in Parliament Square, London, where appeals to the JCPC are typically heard in Courtroom Three. However until early this century JCPC hearings took place in a chamber accessed via an unobtrusive door to the Privy Council offices in Downing Street, opposite the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The Soane Museum’s website includes drawings from Sir John’s designs for these offices (see below, Soane …). However the grandeur evident in drawings and in an 1846 illustration (see below, Sitting …) gave way to more cramped and modest conditions by the time of a 1921 appeal against the judgment of the Lincoln Consistory Court (see below, Archdeacon …).  Depicting an earlier era, Christian Schussele’s mid nineteenth century painting Benjamin Franklin appearing before the Privy Council, depicts a rich and vivid spectacle of the court sitting in 1774 in the Royal Cockpit. (See below, Isaacson.)

IMG_1765

The corner of Downing Street and Whitehall

The origins of the Privy Council’s jurisdiction are introduced on the JCPC website, and background commentary about the Privy Council records at the UK National Archives suggests that the Council's judicial function had become distinguishable from legislative and administrative roles by the sixteenth century. With the creation of the Judicial Committee in 1833 during the Lord Chancellorship of Henry Brougham colonial appeals to the Privy Council were ensured to be heard by professional lawyers, (see below Lobban) and by the start of the twentieth century the JCPC “was the final appellate court over a vast global Empire” of colonies, possessions and self-governing Dominions. (Mohr) A YouTube video embedded on the JCPC website provides a brief and engaging history of the court and its jurisdiction.

Biographical information about Privy Council judges can be found across the British Library collections. Archival collections including the Coleridge Family Papers. (MS 85495-86488), Hardwicke Papers (including five, indexed volumes of “appeal-causes before the Privy Council, 1722-1769”, Add. MS 36,216 - 36,220.), India Office Records and private papers, papers of several Lord Chancellors and Prime Ministers (for example, Robert Peel Add 40181 - 40617 and William Gladstone Add. 44086-44835) offer glimpses into the lives and work of  Privy Council judges, the judicial business of the Privy Council, and sometimes into specific cases. These can be searched on the archives catalogue. Photographs and biographical detail of the first colonial judges appointed to the Judicial Committee including Henry De Villiers (South Africa), Samuel James Way (Australia), Samuel Strong (Canada), and Ameer Ali (India) can be found in British Library’s journal and newspaper collections.

Speaking in 2013 and highlighting the modern internationalism of today’s JCPC, Lord Neuberger drew attention to the long-standing position that, although usually sitting for convenience in Westminster, the JCPC applies the law of the state in question.  The Privy Council has considered law from varied locations and legal traditions including Common Law, acts of the Oireachtas from the Irish Free State, French, Spanish and Romano-Dutch law, Venetian and Sardinian law, customary law from Africa, Ottoman and Chinese law, and Hindu, Islamic and Buddhist law from India. (Haldane p. 154) Research indicates that the huge majority of cases originated in India, with the next highest number attributed to Canada. (See Richardson and below Campbell)

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High Court, Calcutta, now Kolkata. (Photo Stretton, W.G., 1875, British Library Online Gallery)

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Recorder’s Court, Rangoon, now Yangon (Photo Jackson, J. 1868, British Library Online Gallery)

The JCPC has heard appeals from courts closer to London too. These include Admiralty and Prize appeals, cases from ecclesiastical courts, and cases pertaining to issues of congenital or temporary mental ill-health, jurisdictions inherited from the High Court of Delegates in the 1830s. During the twentieth century, the court also heard certain cases concerning patents and copyright, and appeals in disciplinary cases from a small number of professional bodies.

Getting to grips with Privy Council appeals, judgments and printed case papers

A snapshot cross section of the court’s caseload is given in Alex Giles’ blog piece Stories from the Empire: Privy Council Cases 1917-1920 while the cultural and international legal significance of particular cases are vividly brought to life in panels from the 2014 exhibition A Court at the Crossroads of Empire: Stories from the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council through the stories of individual litigants and lawyers.

 A more comprehensive representation of the JCPC case load than the selective coverage distributed throughout numerous law reports can be found in collections of official transcripts of the judgments. Very substantial collections are available online and bound into volumes of case papers. The website of the British and Irish Legal Information Institute BAILII provides easy access to a collection of judgment transcripts digitised from the JCPC’s own collection. More or less equivalent is the collection of judgments bound in with the British Library volumes of JCPC case papers, although some variations in coverage and numbering are evident in comparison with the BAILII set.  

In turn, the case papers, which sometimes amount to thousands of pages for an individual case, provide far more insight to individual cases and the operation of justice than the judgments are capable of offering. Largely made up of records of proceedings reprinted and authenticated from those in the originating courts and distributed for the purposes of the Privy Council appeal hearings, they provide rare opportunities to examine historical law in action in courts around the world. As Weait says of transcripts of criminal trials and their value for teaching law, (see below) the case papers reflect the vibrant dispute, and dialogue of proceedings providing opportunity to take a “critically reflective stance” on the “distillation, reduction and abstraction” of process that is provided in “monologue” appellate judgments.

However, as studies of legal case files also suggest, the printed records of proceedings also offer material traces of how law absorbs and constructs the wider social world through authenticated documentary and sworn evidence. It was the level of detail in spatial representations demanded of documentary evidence that one researcher valued. The information was simply unavailable elsewhere. Valued too was the archive of nuanced language and insight on private devotional practices that offered a reflection of a less homogenous, cultural identity than had commonly circulated in contemporary political narrative.  Further insights afforded by the case papers are illustrated in another of Giles’ blog pieces and in summaries of talks by legal historians at a symposium held at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies.

The few accessible and comprehensive sets of these internationally significant papers are all located in Britain, distributed to archival collections following the disposal of the appeals.  This includes of course the British Library set. (Please note that printed cases and records of proceedings for selected cases beyond the scope of this set can also be found among the Hardwicke papers and India Office Records at the British Library.)  A catalogue entry on the National Archives website helpfully places another set of the printed case papers in context of the wider collections of Privy Council records, although it does not currently facilitate access to the individual cases. Fortunately, free online access to a subset of the case papers is provided by BAILII (British and Irish Legal Information Institute). Case papers for a small selection of appeals are also provided on Exeter University website Privy Council Papers.  

Elsewhere online resources have focused on cases from specific geographical areas and historical periods. These include the Ames Foundation’s Annotated Digital Catalogue of Colonial Appeals (see below, O’Connor and Bilder) whose principal project provides digital images of printed cases in appeals from the American colonies prior to independence, and draws extensive metadata for each case from Privy Council records including the Acts of the Privy Council of England (Colonial Series) and the original Privy Council Registers  and the relevant parts of the PC 1 series (see below, Privy …). Another example is that provided by Macquarie University, which provides detailed information about pre-1850 Australian cases. Additionally, the Anglo-Indian Legal History site by Mitch Fraas contains data about the first 50 appeals from India (1679-1774).

For the final part of today’s blog we look at the how the metadata that describes the nineteenth and twentieth century judgments underpins some of the online services described above, how it facilitates discovery of and access to these resources, and how it might be further exploited.

Exploiting the appeal case metadata for collection discovery and research

The relevant section of BAILII (British and Irish Legal Information Institute) allows the user to search the text of the JCPC judgments, browse the judgments by year and view digitised versions of case documents, where available (see Whittle’s article for more information). Access to the BAILII documents is additionally provided by the LawCite search interface from AustLII, the Australasian Legal Information Institute. Many of the BAILII cases can also be explored and accessed based on the geographical location of the originating courts and the year of the JCPC judgment via a resource provided by IALS (Institute of Advanced Legal Studies), as well as via the University of Exeter’s Privy Council Papers resource.

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IALS visualises selected JCPC cases based on their geographical location and judgment year

The brief details describing each appeal case, its judgments and case papers (the metadata) in several of the above online resources is based on information used to identify and manage collections of judgments and case papers formerly housed at the Privy Council Office in Downing Street. Initially in Microsoft Word documents, these were donated to several institutions including the British Library.

In a single document E.C. Stretton recorded the contents of 137 volumes entitled Printed Cases in Indian and Colonial Appeals (now part of the series PCAP 6 covering cases heard between 1792 and 1878 in the catalogue of the UK National Archives). In addition to the origin of the appeal and details of the parties and documents included for each case in a particular volume, the Stretton metadata also includes, in some cases, information about the outcome of the appeal and the names of presiding Privy Council judges.  Much of this information is now searchable in the catalogue of Exeter University’s Privy Council Papers resource.

Additional annual documents that acted as an index to cases decided between 1860 and 1998, providing basic data in a tabular structure, also underpins some of these online resources. While acting as a helpful finding aid used to identify the year and judgment number of a given case the detail and structure of this data made it immediately obvious that the information could be used to ask questions about the whole body of cases.

With such a huge body of cases to negotiate, stretching over so many years, would an approach that offers some perspective on the case load as a whole be valuable?  Giles suggests that there were around 140 cases per year between 1917 and 1920 - we have seen their wide geographical and cultural scope - and behind each case lies a rich and extensive source in the case papers.

At the British Library this tabular metadata was converted to a spreadsheet that forms the basis for data visualisation experiments that will be outlined in future blog posts.  Drawing inspiration from digital humanities projects we wondered how this structured data could be exploited to ask questions about the JCPC case load as a whole or to facilitate discovery and retrieval of judgments and case papers relevant to particular research interests. Could the data facilitate easier understanding of the geographic distribution of the origins of the appeals, or demonstrate how this distribution was structured by year? Could it help to investigate typical duration of cases (from appeal year to judgment year) and explore relationships between duration and the distance of the originating court from Westminster? Could we determine which appellants or respondents occurred most frequently in the dataset? What other connections and relationships could be discovered to facilitate research or help with identification of relevant appeals and case papers for further investigation?

This is the first in a series of posts about a project to make information about JCPC appeal cases easier to discover. Later posts on the Digital Scholarship blog will look at ways of visualising the information about them:

Many of the resources discussed above are signposted in a collection guide on the British Library website: Judicial Committee of the Privy Council appeal cases.

Further Reading

Some of the resources listed below contain links to online subscription websites. If you or you institution do not have a subscription to these websites they can be accessed in the British Library reading rooms.

The image also can be seen on Leslie Katz’ blog 

  • Soane Museum: collections online: drawings http://collections.soane.org/drawings : architectural & other: office of works : London, Board of Trade and Privy Council Offices, Whitehall & Downing Street: designs for new offices and scheme for the improvement of Downing Street, 1823-33 (284 catalogued drawings)
  • Weait, M (2012) Criminal Law: Thinking about Criminal Law from a Trial Perspective, p163, in Hunter, C Integrating Socio-Legal Studies into the Law Curriculum (Palgrave Macmillan)