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BC Law Profs Create Digital Catalogue of ‘Appeals to the Privy Council from the American Colonies'

NEWTON, Mass. (June 2014)--In recognition of the 300th anniversary of the accession of George I, the Ames Foundation for legal history has announced a new electronic resource, Appeals to the Privy Council from the American Colonies: An Annotated Digital Catalogue, created by Boston College Law School Professor Emerita Sharon Hamby O’Connor and Professor and Lee Distinguished Scholar Mary Sarah Bilder, with assistance from Charles Donahue, the Paul A. Freund Professor at Harvard Law School.

Mary Sarah Bilder
Mary Sarah Bilder

“For the first time in centuries, the site makes accessible the important appellate cases that helped to define constitutional law before the creation of the United States Supreme Court,” said Bilder. “The site combines the strength of print bibliographies with new digital technologies.”

The British Privy Council heard more than 800 cases that were appealed from the colonial supreme courts, nearly one-third of which came from the 13  colonies that became the United States; others came from colonies in Canada and the Caribbean. The site provides links to original documents for these appeals available in England and the U.S. Most significantly, it includes images of surviving briefs filed in 54 of the appeals. Known as “printed cases,” these briefs provide the reasons for the appeals, which in turn reveal the principles underlying colonial constitutional law and 18th-century British common and statutory law.

Sharon Hamby O'Connor
Sharon Hamby O'Connor

The catalogue of appeals is annotated and contains links to other resources. The digital format permits flexibility in access and direct viewing of all documents. In addition to an introduction, the ADC includes a memorandum for students and enthusiasts, which offers advice on how to use the catalogue for developing a course paper or for advancing research in the field.

The Colonial Appeals ADC will eventually be expanded to incorporate appeals from Canada and from the Caribbean; preliminary lists of these appeals are included.  The ADC site is one of several complementary international projects investigating previously unpublished Privy Council cases from Australia, India, and the British colonial possessions generally.

The UK Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, which recently linked to the new site from its website, retains appellate jurisdiction over certain territories, Crown dependencies, and Commonwealth countries. The Colonial Appeals ADC emphasizes the historical continuity of this important judicial institution.

The project is an online publication of the Ames Foundation. Additional assistance was provided by Boston College Law School and Harvard Law School.