Companion to the Standing Orders and guide to the Proceedings of the House of Lords


11.01  The House of Lords is the ultimate court of appeal in the United Kingdom for all cases except Scottish criminal cases. The Human Rights Act 1998 applies to the House in its judicial capacity.

Lords of Appeal

11.02  The appellate jurisdiction of the House[482] is exercised by the Lords of Appeal, that is to say,

  • Lords of Appeal in Ordinary, who receive a salary from the Consolidated Fund; and
  • Lords who hold or have held high judicial office who have not reached the statutory retirement age.[483]

11.03  The Lords of Appeal are full members of the House and the House places no restriction on their right to take part in non-judicial business. However, in view of their judicial role, the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary consider themselves bound by two general principles when deciding whether to participate in non-judicial business or to vote: first, they do not think it appropriate to engage in matters where there is a strong element of party political controversy; secondly, they bear in mind that they might render themselves ineligible to sit judicially if they were to express an opinion on a matter which might later be relevant to an appeal in the House.[484]

11.04  The maximum number of Lords of Appeal in Ordinary is 12.[485] This number may be increased by affirmative instrument.


11.05  Petitions for leave to appeal and interlocutory matters are considered by an Appeal Committee, which normally consists of three Lords of Appeal.

11.06  If leave is granted, an appeal is referred to and heard by an Appellate Committee,[486] which normally consists of five Lords of Appeal sitting in a committee room. Appeals are occasionally heard in the Chamber during periods when the House is not sitting for public business.

11.07  The quorum for judicial business, whether in committee or in the House, is the same number as for public business of the House, namely three, but those three must be Lords of Appeal.

11.08  Responsibility for selecting Lords of Appeal to sit on Appellate and Appeal Committees rests with the Senior Lord of Appeal in Ordinary. The chairman of each such committee is the senior Lord of Appeal in Ordinary present, seniority being determined in accordance with the Commission appointing Lord Speakers for judicial sittings of the House.

11.09  Judicial business is conducted in accordance with the judicial standing orders and practice directions. The practice directions are made and amended by an Appeal Committee. Judicial standing orders are made and amended at sittings of the House for public business. The practice directions and standing orders are available at, or from the Judicial Office.


11.10  Appeal and Appellate Committees have no power to determine the matters referred to them, but must report their conclusions to the House. The agreement of the House to Appeal Committee reports is usually signified by silent Minute entry. The reports of Appellate Committees however are considered and agreed to at judicial sittings of the House. Such sittings generally take place at 9.45 a.m. on Wednesdays. Proceedings are brief: the House agrees to consider the report of the committee on a particular cause; each Lord of Appeal then indicates his Opinion on the appeal by reference to his written speech (made available free of charge to those present); the House then agrees to the report and a final, detailed question disposes of the substantive issues raised by the appeal. In urgent cases, the Lords of Appeal can ask the House to dispose of an appeal before their written Opinions have been prepared.

11.11  By convention, members of the House who are not Lords of Appeal take no part in judicial proceedings.[487]

Recesses, prorogation and dissolution

11.12  Judicial business may be carried on when the House is otherwise in recess. The Senior Lord of Appeal in Ordinary may recall the House during a recess to give judgment, by giving notice to such members of the House as he thinks fit.[488] Judicial sittings may take place during a prorogation.[489] Lords of Appeal may be introduced or take the oath at such a sitting.[490] Appellate Committees may meet during prorogation,[491] but Appeal Committees may not. During a dissolution, provision may be made by a Writing under the Queen's Sign Manual for the Lords of Appeal to act in the name of the House to hear appeals and to give judgment.[492]

482   Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876. Back

483   The statutory retirement age is set by the Judicial Pensions and Retirement Act 1993, which came into force on 31 March 1995. All judges appointed to full-time judicial office after the Act came into force must retire from office at the age of 70. Those judges appointed to full-time judicial office before the Act came into force must retire from office at the age of 75. A Law Lord over the statutory retirement age of 75 remains a Lord of Appeal, e.g. for the purpose of proceedings of the Committee for Privileges on peerage claims, but may not take part in judicial business.  Back

484   Statement by the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary: HL Deb. 22 June 2000 col. 419. Back

485   Maximum Number of Judges Order 1994. Back

486   SO 87. Back

487   They may attend in the Chamber while judicial sittings are taking place but attendance solely at a judicial sitting does not count as attendance for the purpose of Lords' expenses. Back

488   SO 17(3). Back

489   Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876 s. 8. Back

490   Appellate Jurisdiction (Amendment) Act 1887 s. 1. Back

491   SO 87(5). Back

492   Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876 s. 9. Back

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