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Courts 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 another.

One exception to this rule is the area of immigration law, the Immigration Apellate Authority's jurisdiction cover the whole of the United Kingdom.

Table of contents

England and Wales

Criminal Cases

Most criminal cases initially go to the Magistrates Court[?]. For minor crimes (90% of cases), the case is dealt with by summary trial by the Magistrates (now known as District Judges) (no jury), who have limited sentencing powers. For more serious crimes, the District Judge decides if there is a case to answer and then sends it to the Crown Court[?], where the case is tried by a Circuit Judge or, for serious offences, a High Court Judge.

There are various courses of appeal. From the Magistrates Court, an appeal can be taken to the Crown Court on matters of fact and law. From the Crown Court, an appeal can be taken to the Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal. Appeals on matters of law can be taken to the Divisional Court of the High Court from the Magistrates Court or the Crown Court. Appeals from the High Court take the usual route via the Court of Appeal and House of Lords. The Old Bailey is the common name of London's famous central criminal court.

Relationship with the European Court of Justice ('ECJ')

Contrary to popular belief, there is no right to appeal at any stage in UK court proceedings to the ECJ. Any court in the UK may refer a particular point of law relating to EC 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. Note that only the most senior courts in the UK are entitled to refer cases (e.g. the High Court of England and Wales or the House of Lords). 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.

Civil Cases

Under the new Civil Procedure Rules, civil claims under 5,000 are dealt with in the County Court under the 'Small Claims Track'. This is generally knows 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 1 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. Personal Injury cases have different values.


In addition, there are other courts and tribunals. Tribunals sit in judgement over a number of specialist areas, and frequently have appeals tribunals above them. For example, the Employment Tribunals (appeals to Employment Appeals Tribunal),VAT Tribunals, Land Tribunals etc. etc.

The tribunals will either give a right of appeal to the specific appeals tribunal (e.g. Employment Tribunal cases are appealed to the Employment Appeals Tribunal) which in turn allows appeals to the Court of Appeal or, in the absence of a specific appeals court, will have a right of appeal to the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court which has general authority over all lesser courts.

Two other courts still sit frequently:

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 a state religion) 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.


Northern Ireland

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