Peerage claims

11.6Jurisdiction to determine a claim to a dignity resides only with the Crown.1 The Lord Chancellor, on behalf of the Crown, maintains a Roll of the Peerage, which is the official register in which those inheriting peerages seek inclusion as evidence of their dignity and rank.2

Any person succeeding to or claiming a peerage should apply to the Lord Chancellor, through the Crown Office, for inclusion in the Roll. If the applicant does not wish to be included in the register of hereditary peers wishing to stand in by-elections (see para 1.15 ), and if the case is straightforward, this application direct to the Lord Chancellor is sufficient. However, if the claimant wishes to be included in the register, the application is formally made by petitioning the House. The petition is referred to the Lord Chancellor (Standing Order No 11), who then reports their findings to the House. In the case of a peerage of Ireland (Standing Order No 79), the claim is similarly made by petition direct to the House, which is then referred by the House to the Lord Chancellor for report.

If the claim is a difficult one, or if the Lord Chancellor is not satisfied that the claimant has established a right to succession, the matter is referred to the House of Lords, which then refers it to the Committee for Privileges and Conduct. In hearing such claims the Committee sits with three current holders of high judicial office, who are granted the same speaking and voting rights as members of the Committee (Standing Order No 77). Once the Committee has reported to the House, the House usually resolves in the terms of the Committee's decision and the resolution is then reported to the Crown.3

Footnotes

  1. Previous editions of Erskine May noted that ‘the jurisdiction of the House of Lords in peerage claims … is not confined to cases in which a peerage claim is referred to the House by the Crown’ (23rd edn, 2004, p 68). This statement reflected the House's inherent jurisdiction, as guardian of its own privileges, to determine who are its members, for which see Palmer Peerage law in England (1907), p 11; R v Knowles (1694) 12 State Tr 1167–1207; R v Knollys (1694) 91 ER 434, 904 (and see also: Lord Banbury's case (1693) 90 ER 776); Lord Campbell Lives of the Chief Justices of England 1857, ii, 148; Wensleydale (Parl Deb (1856) 140, cc 263, 508, 591, 898, 977, 1022, 1121, 1152, 1289). Since the coming into force of the House of Lords Act 1999, the only context in which the House of Lords could declare the law on matters of peerage in the absence of any reference from the Crown would be on a petition to be entered into the register for by-elections where the Lord Chancellor has recommended the claim is proper to be considered by the Committee for Privileges and Conduct.
  2. The Roll of the Peerage replaced the Roll of the Lords, which was maintained by the Clerk of the Parliaments until the enactment of the House of Lords Act 1999. The roll is the authoritative list of the complete peerage and is evidence in cases of dispute (LJ (1509–77) 23; ibid (1578–1614) 195; ibid (1628–42) 39–40).
  3. The decisions of the Committee for Privileges and Conduct are not judgments and are not binding in another claim, even though the circumstances attending the claim and the point of law arising upon it may be precisely the same: see Wiltes Peerage Claim (1869) LR 4 HL 126 at 147 ff; Viscountess Rhondda's Claim [1922] 2 AC 339 at 377, HL. A fuller description of the process for determining peerage claims is contained in 79 Halsbury's Laws of England (5th edn) (2008).