In the most immediate terms, this research network and the associated cataloguing and digitisation project will facilitate the usage of a large but hitherto underused collection of records, which the National Archives is in the process of acquiring from the Ministry of Justice, and of which the British Library holds a partial but immediately accessible copy. By creating proper finding aids and making these available online - this project will greatly improve knowledge of and access to these records, and provide an important service to two national institutions.
At the level of the research findings, the proposed research questions touch upon issues that are routinely encountered by lawyers, judges, litigants and legal activists in post-imperial Britain, especially, although not exclusively, in connection with the rights and claims of individuals of minority communities, who have personal or familial connections with Britain's former colonies. The proposed research can facilitate awareness among policy makers and legal professionals about Britain's vast repertoire of experience in governance and adjudication in culturally diverse contexts, and enable the avoidance of historical mistakes. Issues of community belonging, collective claims and the definition of the legitimate role of the state are also of pressing concern to the several post-colonial nations that emerged out of the British empire in Australasia, Africa and the Caribbean. For policy makers and activists of those countries, it would not only be useful to be aware of this historical record, but to also become aware of the alternative trajectories of and historical connections between other ex-colonial countries. Such awareness can be facilitated by aligning our project with other successful and growing legal digitisation projects, such as the BAILLI and COMMONLII.
On the other hand, this is a record of social history that would be valuable for researching, preserving and critiquing the heritage of minority communities in the UK, and also for family historians seeking information about their ancestors who may have lived and worked in various parts of the British empire. This will supplement family history resources already available from the National Archives' website and from the websites of some excellent projects such as that of the Families in British India Society, the 'Moving Here' project and the 'Making Britain' project.
It is also essential, in post-imperial Britain, characterised by cultural pluralism but also threatened by social disintegration and the encroachment of security imperatives on legal freedoms, that the wider public is alerted to the tremendously transformative and sometimes disruptive role played by British judicial institutions in the 'multicultural' world of empire. The proposed exhibition on the JCPC's historic role, held within the premises of the Supreme Court, will contribute to public awareness of the potential and problems of securing justice in a plural and unequal world and the historic experience of British courts attempting to perform that task. We, the investigators of the project, have already provided consultation to the documentary film-makers, Silverfish TV, in the process of creating a short animated movie that will be shown to visitors to the Supreme Court. During the process of that consultation we became aware that the Supreme Court had approximately 45,000 visitors in the last year; this is a significant audience that the public exhibition can engage with, in order to raise awareness regarding the implications of adjudication in socio-culturally diverse societies.
We have also been approached by BBC4 in connection with the Voices from Old Bailey programme - an invitation that arose out of our connection with Professor Tim Hitchcock. We will remain open to, and explore, further such opportunities for collaboration with the media, more in line with our own research interests and those of the network as a whole.
This project aims to use a major and hitherto neglected archival cache of legal records to explore the impact of colonial law upon the making of social and political identities, the translation of culturally specific ideas and practices into a 'global' legal language, and the transformation of common law itself - in Britain as much as in those distant countries where British subjects once lived. It begins with the hypothesis that in asserting what they (or others) were entitled to, people enmeshed in any legal process are inevitably compelled to state who they (and others) are, and that in a colonial or imperial context, the compulsions are particularly acute as well as transformative.
This network will examine in three novel ways how entitlement and representation (rights and identities) shaped each other in the context of British imperial rule. First, it will bring together a group of specialists whose combined research interests are genuinely pan-imperial and whose disciplinary expertise spans history, law and literary criticism. In doing so, the network will encourage both multi- and trans-disciplinary research, as well as research that is trans-national in scope - encouraging individual researchers and the collective as a whole to push boundaries, both intellectual and pragmatic. Secondly, it will exploit the research opportunity presented by an emerging archive - the records of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) - an archive unique for its capacity, given its size, for providing an empirical basis for research in these very broad and 'global' themes. Such exploitation and unprecedented usage will be made possible by enhancing an existing prototype website and online catalogue, developed as part of a pilot project "Judging Empire" - conducted by the Principal and Co-investigators. Finally, it will utilise the expertise of the network members in order to benefit from specialist knowledge of supplementary non-UK and/or non-legal records. A significant core of the network will consist of scholars using the JCPC records; but also those concentrating on non-UK legal records, and non-legal sources such as administrative and police records, pamphlets in English and other languages, literary and visual resources - such variety being essential in order to trace the multiple levels at which translations of doctrines, aesthetics, ethics, institutional forms, social networks and political identities occurred within the colonial and imperial legal system(s), and to identify the motivations and compulsions that shaped the assumption of legal subjectivities by very different people, united by the common designation of 'British subjects'.
The network, which includes early career researchers as well as established scholars, has been formed through invitation, as well as by a 'snowballing' process, whereby incorporated network members, have helped to identify outstanding scholars in fields less familiar to the Investigators themselves. We intend to allow the network to recruit members all through its lifetime, thus fulfilling our ambition of setting a new research agenda in law as a crucial site of exchange, transformation and translation in the context of British imperial rule.
We especially intend to use the enhanced project website, with its user blog, as a powerful tool for publicity as well as engagement - with other scholars, as well as the wider public. We will further attempt to engage the general public on issues of governance, cultural diversity and justice by organising a user review event at the outset, by seeking permission to curate a public exhibition on the historic role of the JCPC in the Supreme Court's premises, and also by exploring every opportunity for collaboration with the media, such as was recently offered when our consultation was sought during the production of a documentary film commissioned by the JCPC, intended for visitors.