Courts of England and Wales
From LawGuru Wiki
The Courts of England and Wales are the civil and criminal courts responsible for the administration of justice in England and Wales; they are constituted and governed by the Law of England and Wales and are subordinate to the Parliament of the United Kingdom.
The United Kingdom does not have a single unified judicial system—England and Wales have one system, Scotland another, and Northern Ireland a third. There are exceptions to this rule; for example in immigration law, the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal's jurisdiction covers the whole of the United Kingdom, while in employment law there is a single system of Employment Tribunals for England, Wales, and Scotland (but not Northern Ireland).
 House of Lords
The House of Lords is the highest appeal court in almost all cases in England and Wales. In practice, only the Law Lords hear the appeals. It was abolished by the Supreme Court of Judicature Act 1873, but an election was held before the act came into force, and the new Parliament passed the Supreme Court of Judicature Act 1875 which amended the first Act to preserve the House of Lords' judicial function. The Constitutional Reform Act 2005 will transfer these functions to the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. The House is also the court of trial in impeachment cases, although impeachment in England is now obsolete.
 Judicial Committee of the Privy Council
 Supreme Court of Judicature of England and Wales
The Supreme Court of Judicature of England and Wales is the most important superior court of England and Wales. It consists of the
When all the provisions of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 come into force the courts comprised in the present Supreme Court of England and Wales will become known as the Senior Courts of England and Wales. This change is being made consequent to the establishment of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom by that Act.
 Court of Appeal
Template:Main The Court of Appeal consists of two divisions: the Civil Division hears appeals from the High Court and County Court and certain superior tribunals, while the Criminal Division may only hear appeals from the Crown Court connected with a trial on indictment (i.e. trial by judge and jury (the jury is only present if the defendant pleads "not guilty")).
 High Court
Template:Main The High Court of Justice functions both as a civil court of first instance and a civil and criminal appellate court for cases from the subordinate courts. It consists of three divisions: the Queen's Bench, the Chancery and the Family divisions. The divisions of the High Court are not separate courts. Although particular kinds of cases will be assigned to each division depending on their subject matter, each division may exercise the jurisdiction of the High Court. However, beginning proceedings in the wrong division may result in a costs penalty.
 Crown Court
The Crown Court is a criminal court of both original and appellate jurisdiction. It was established by the Courts Act of 1971. It replaced the Assizes whereby High Court judges would periodically travel around the country hearing cases, and Quarter Sessions which were periodic county courts. The Old Bailey is the unofficial name of London's most famous Criminal Court, which is now part of the Crown Court. Its official name is the "Central Criminal Court". The Crown Court also hears appeals from Magistrates' Courts.
The Crown Court is only a superior court in connection with its jurisdiction to hear trials on indictment. In other cases, such as when hearing an appeal from a Magistrates' Court or exercising a first instance civil jurisdiction, it is an inferior court and may be subject to judicial review.
 Subordinate courts
The most common subordinate courts in England and Wales are the
 Magistrates' and Youth Courts
Magistrates' Courts are presided over by a bench of lay magistrates (or justices of the peace), or a legally-trained district judge (formerly known as a stipendiary magistrate), sitting in each local justice area. There are no juries. They hear minor criminal cases, as well as certain licensing applications. Youth courts are run on similar lines to Adult magistrates' courts but deal with offenders aged between the ages of 10 and 17 inclusive. Youth courts are presided over by a specially trained subset of experienced Adult Magistrates or a District Judge. Youth Magistrates have a wider catalogue of disposals available to them for dealing with young offenders and often hear more serious cases against youths (which for adults would normally be dealt with by the Crown Court). Youth courts are not open to the public for observation, only the parties involved in a case being admitted. County courts hear minor civil cases, and are generally presided over by district or circuit judges.
 County Courts
County Courts are statutory courts with a purely civil jurisdiction. They are presided over by either a District or Circuit Judge and, except in a small minority of cases such as civil actions against the Police, the judge sits alone as trier of fact and law without assistance from a jury.
County Courts are local courts in the sense that each one has an area over which certain kinds of jurisdiction -- mostly actions concerning land -- are exercised. For example, proceedings for possession of land must be started in the county court in whose district the property lies. However, in general any county court in England and Wales may hear any action and claims are frequently transferred from court to court.
 Special courts and tribunals
In addition, there are many other specialist courts. These are often described as "Tribunals" rather than courts, but the difference in name is not of any great consequence. For example an Employment Tribunal is an inferior court of record for the purposes of the law of contempt of court. In many cases there is a statutory right of appeal from a tribunal to a particular court or specially constituted appellate tribunal. In the absence of a specific appeals court, the only remedy from a decision of a Tribunal may be a judicial review to the High Court, which will often be more limited in scope than an appeal.
Examples of specialist courts are:
- Employment Tribunals (formerly Industrial Tribunals) with appeal to the Employment Appeal Tribunal
- the Employment Appeal Tribunal, which is a superior court of record, and therefore not subject to judicial review, appeals go to the Court of Appeal
- Leasehold Valuation Tribunals, with appeal to the Lands Tribunal
- the Lands Tribunal
- VAT and Duties Tribunals (who deal with indirect tax cases)
- the General Commissioners and Special Commissioners (who deal with direct tax cases)
 Administrative Court
The Administrative Court, formerly known as the Crown Office List, is a specialist court within the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court and concerns itself with the administrative law of England and Wales, and oversees lower courts and tribunals. Its largest function is the consideration of judicial review cases.
 Coroners' courts
The post of coroner is ancient, dating from the 11th Century, and coroners still sit today to determine the cause of death in situations where people have died in potentially suspicious circumstances, abroad, or in the care of central authority. Coroners no longer sit in judgement of Treasure Trove cases, following the passing of the Treasure Act 1996.
 Ecclesiastical courts
The Church of England is an established church (i.e. it is the official state church) and formerly had power over matters such as marriage and divorce law, wills, etc. Now the ecclesiastical courts deal with church property and errant clergy. Each Diocese has a 'Chancellor' (either a barrister or solicitor) who acts as a judge. The Bishop no longer has the right to preside personally, as he formerly did. Appeals lie to provincial courts, and to the Court of Ecclesiastical Causes Reserved and to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.
 Other courts
- Court-martial (military)
- Admiralty court (historical maritime)
- Court of Chivalry (heraldry; rarely sits)
- Star Chamber (historical)
- Court of Piepowders (historical marketplace courts)
- Stannary Court (Cornish mining court)
 Criminal cases
There are two kinds of criminal trial: 'summary' and 'on indictment'. For an adult, summary trials take place in a magistrates' court, while trials on indictment take place in the Crown Court. Despite the possibility of two venues for trial, almost all criminal cases, however serious, commence in the Magistrates' Courts. It is possible to start a trial for an indictable offence by a voluntary bill of indictment, and go directly to the Crown Court, but that would be unusual.
A criminal case that starts in the Magistrates' Court, may begin, either by the defendant being charged and then being brought forcibly before Magistrates, or by summons to the defendant to appear on a certain day before the Magistrates. A summons is usually confined to very minor offences. The hearing (of the charge or summons) before the Maigstrates is known as a "first appearance".
Offences are of three categories: indictable only, summary and either way. Indictable only offences such as murder and rape must be tried on indictment in the Crown Court. On first appearance, the Magistrates must immediately refer the defendant to the Crown Court for trial, their only role being to decide whether to remand the defendant on bail or in custody.
Summary offences such as most motoring offences, are much less serious and most must be tried in the Magistrates' Court, although a few may be sent for trial to the Crown Court along with other offences that may be tried there (for example assault). The vast majority of offences are also concluded in the Magistrates' Court (over 90% of cases).
Either way offences are intermediate offences such as theft and, with the exception of low value criminal damage, may be tried either summarily (by magistrates) or by Judge and Jury in the Crown Court. If the magistrates consider that an either way offence is too serious for them to deal with, they may "decline jurisdiction" which means that the defendant will have to appear in the Crown Court. Conversely even if the magistrates accept jurisdiction, an adult defendant has a right to compel a jury trial. Defendants under 18 years of age do not have this right, and will be tried in the Youth Court (similar to a Magistrates' Court) unless the case is homicide or else is particularly serious.
A Magistrates' Court is made up in two ways. Either a group (known as a 'bench') of 'lay magistrates', who do not have to be, and are not normally, lawyers, will hear the case. A lay bench must consist of at least three magistrates. Alternatively a case may be heard by a district judge (formerly known as a stipendary magistrate), who will be a qualified lawyer and will sit singly, but has the same powers as a lay bench. District judges usually sit in the more busy courts in cities or hear complex cases (eg extradition). Magistrates have limited sentencing powers.
In the Crown Court, the case is tried by a Recorder (part time judge), Circuit Judge or a High Court judge, with a jury. The status of the judge depends on the seriousness and complexity of the case. The jury is involved only if the defendant pleads "not guilty".
From the Magistrates' Court, an appeal can be taken to the Crown Court on matters of fact and law or, on matters of law alone, to the Divisional Court of Queen's Bench Division of the High Court, which is called an appeal "by way of case stated". The Magistrates' Court is also an inferior court and is therefore subject to judicial review.
The Crown Court is more complicated. When it is hearing a trial on indictment (a jury trial) it is treated as a superior court, which means that its decisions may not be judicially reviewed and appeal only lies to the Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal.
In other circumstances (for example when acting as an appeal court from a Magistrates' Court) the Crown Court is an inferior court, which means that it is subject to judicial review. When acting as an inferior court, appeals by way of case stated on matters of law may be made to the Divisional Court of Queen's Bench Division of the High Court.
Appeals from the High Court, in criminal matters, may only go to the House of Lords. Appeals from the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) may also only be taken to the House of Lords.
Appeals to the House of Lords are unusual in that the court from which appeal is being made (either the High Court or the Court of Appeal) must certify that there is a question of general public importance. This additional control mechanism is not present with civil appeals and means that far fewer criminal appeals are heard by the House of Lords.
 Civil cases
Under the Civil Procedure Rules 1998, civil claims under £5,000 are dealt with in the County Court under the 'Small Claims Track'. This is generally known to the lay public as the 'Small Claims Court' but does not exist as a separate court. Claims between £5,000 and £15,000 that are capable of being tried within one day are allocated to the 'Fast Track' and claims over £15,000 to the 'Multi Track'. These 'tracks' are labels for the use of the court system — the actual cases will be heard in the County Court or the High Court depending on their value.
For Personal Injury and Defamation cases and some Landlord and Tenant disputes the thresholds for each track have different values.
 Relationship with the European Court of Justice
Contrary to popular belief, there is no right to appeal at any stage in UK court proceedings to the European Court of Justice (ECJ). Any court in the UK may refer a particular point of law relating to European Union law to the ECJ for determination. However, once the ECJ has given its interpretation, the case is referred back to the court that referred it. This is symptomatic of the fact that although the European Union is increasingly federal, there is no federal court system, just laws that must be interpreted the same way across all member states.
The decision to refer a question to the ECJ can be made by the court of its own initiative, or at the request of any of the parties before it. Where a question of European law is in doubt and there is no appeal from the decision of a court, it is required (except under the doctrine of acte clair) to refer the question to the ECJ; otherwise any referral is entirely at the discretion of the court.
Despite this, some first-instance cases, such as applications for annulment of an EU law or a claim for damages against an EU institution, can be brought before the EU-wide Court of First Instance and other tribunals, the decisions of which are directly appealable to the ECJ on points of law only.
 Relationship with the European Court of Human Rights
It is not possible to appeal the decision of any court in England and Wales to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) Although it is frequent to hear media references to an "appeal" being taken "to Europe", what actually takes place is rather different.
The ECtHR is an international court that hears complaints concerning breaches of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. An unsatisfied litigant in any part of the United Kingdom might complain to the ECtHR that English law has violated their rights and demand just satisfaction. A decision in the ECtHR will not change their rights under English law, and it is up to the Government of the United Kingdom to decide what action (if any) to take after an adverse finding.
Furthermore, courts in England and Wales are not bound to follow a decision of the ECtHR, although they should "take into account" ECtHR jurisprudence when applying the Convention. The Convention has always had an influence on decisions of courts in England and Wales, but now the Convention has two further effects:
- a court, being a public body, must act in accordance with the Convention Rights found in the Human Rights Act 1988, which includes a requirement to construe statutes in accordance with the Convention; and
- direct claims may be made under the Human Rights Act 1998 against a public body for breach of Convention rights.
 Relationship with the International Criminal Court
Template:Sectstub It is not yet clear what this relationship will be.
For nearly 300 years, from the time of the Norman Conquest until 1362, French was the language of the courts, rather than English. The Supreme Court of judicature was formed in 1873 from the merging of various courts then existing, such as the
- Court of Queen's Bench
- High Court of Chancery
- Court of Exchequer
- High Court of Admiralty
- Court of Common Pleas
- Court of Probate and Matrimonial Causes
 See also
- Judiciary of England and Wales
- List of Courts in England and Wales
- Legal year
- English law
- Scots Law
- European Union Law
- List of United Kingdom topics
- Courts of the Republic of Ireland
- List of Supreme Court of Judicature cases
 External links
- Her Majesty's Courts Service website
- Official list of senior judges in the courts of England and Wales
- Organisation of justice in England and Wales (pdf)