Supreme Court of Judicature Act 1873

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The Judicature Act 1873 was an Act of Parliament by the Parliament of the United Kingdom in 1873. It reorganized the English court system to establish the High Court and the Court of Appeal, and 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 Ireland for the time being.) However, the Gladstone Liberal government fell in 1874 before its entry into force, and the succeeding Disraeli Tory government suspended the entry into force of the Act by means of further Acts passed in 1874 and 1875.


Liberal view

One of the reasons why the Liberal government under Gladstone wanted to abolish the judicial aspect of the House of Lords was that it was concerned for the poor quality of judges at this court. Judges at the House of Lords secured their position by mere virtue of the fact that their fathers were hereditary peers, so individuals would automatically inherit seats in the upper house rather than securing their position through merit. Therefore, some of the best lawyers in the land were prohibited from sitting as judges in the upper house simply because of their parentage.

Tory view

However, under the Torys' 1874 and 1875 Acts, the judicial aspect of the House of Lords was retained, and instead, the quality of judicial appointments to the House of Lords was ensured by legislating, under the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876, for the mechanism of judicial life peers. The reigning monarch could appoint any individual he/she liked to be a peer and a judge in the House of Lords. These judicial life peers would hold seats only for the duration of their life; their seat would not pass through their inheritance to their son. Thus Queen Victoria, and subsequent monarchs, were able to appoint leading lawyers to adjudicate in the House of Lords by making them life peers.

Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876

Lord Cairns, Disraeli's Lord Chancellor, 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.

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