The judiciary of United Kingdom is divided into the following for the purpose of their territorial jurisdiction:
England and Wales
The Courts of United Kingdom follows the following hierarchy:
the House of Lords is the Supreme Appellate Court and court of Last Resort, which takes on appeals from Court of Appeal and
the Court of Appeal takes appeal either from Criminal or Civil Division.
At the bottom of the line, the criminal cases are dealt by the Magistrate Courts and civil cases are dealt by the County Courts, Small Claims Court, District and Sheriff Courts.
The appeals from the Magistrate Court either go directly to the High Court or the Crown Court and from there to the Criminal Division.
The appeal from the County Courts go to the High Court and from High Court to the Civil Division.
In brief the court structure of the United Kingdom are as follows:
House of Lords
Court of Appeal
- Criminal Division for Criminal cases and Civil Division for Civil cases
- Crown Division for Criminal cases and High Court for either Civil or Criminal Cases
- Magistrate Courts for Criminal Cases and Small Claims Court, District Courts, Sheriff Courts and County Courts for C
Beside all the Courts mentioned above there is Court-martial Court and Civilian standing Court, appeals from which goes to the Court-Martial Appeal Court and from that directly to the House of Lords.
- In civil cases, the litigation is commenced by a plaintiff (a private person or company or a public authority) against a defendant.
- The sorts of claims arising in the civil courts are about
- torts (civil wrongs such as the causing a road accident through negligence, damaging a person's reputation through defamation, or affecting the enjoyment of their property through causing a nuisance such as by pollution) and
- land disputes.
- The choice of court depends in most cases on the value of the claim.
- Claims of lesser value will start in a County Court.
- The county also deal with divorce and bankruptcy matters.
- Relatively small claims (less than about £3,000) is handled by a Small Claims Procedure which involves a quick hearing, often without lawyers being present, before a District Judge.
- The parties aggrieved by the decision may go on appeal to a Circuit Judge who also deals with full County Court trials.
- Civil claims over around £25,000 are heard in the High Court (based in London but also with a few regional centres, often housed within Crown Court buildings).
The action is begun by writ, which is accompanied by a statement of claim in which the details of the legal dispute is set out.
The High Court is organised according to the nature of the case into the following Divisions:
- This division deals with divorce and child welfare matters and also the administration of wills.
- Divorce is mainly dealt with in the County Courts, but the High Court does hear a small number of complex, contested cases.
- The Family Division also oversees the uncontested administration of wills- a process called "probate".
It authorises the executors to act on behalf of the deceased person if it can be shown that all the papers are in order.
This division deals with complex matters such as disputes about wills, settlements and trusts, bankruptcy, land law, intellectual property (copyright and patents) and corporate laws.
Queen's Bench Division
- This division deals with the remaining business - disputes about contracts or torts or land.
- The Queen's Bench Division has some specialist sub-Divisions:
- a Commercial Court
- a Crown Office List
an Admiralty Court
- The system of appeal in civil cases is as follows:
- from a County Court or the High Court, there is an appeal to the Civil Division of the Court of Appeal on law only.
- from the High Court, there may be an appeal to the House of Lords on a matter of legal importance.
from the Court of Appeal, there can be an appeal to the House of Lords on fact or law, but usually appeal is only allowed on matters of legal importance
- The more serious criminal cases are tried on the basis of a document called the indictment. An indictment is a document which contains the criminal charges made by the prosecutor and date, time and place of occurrence of the offence.
- Indictment is to order the defendant against whom a criminal charge has been alleged, to appear before the court of law.
- In most cases, the prosecution is on behalf of the Crown (the State) and is handled by an official agency called the Crown Prosecution Service, which takes the case over from the police who have already investigated most of the evidence.
- The first stage will be to decide whether there is a case to answer- what is called a prima facie case. This process, called committal, will be dealt with by a magistrate on the basis of evidence disclosed in papers provided by the prosecutor.
- If the case proceeds, it is heard in the Crown Court.
The trial is before a judge and jury. The judge presides over the trial process by attempting to ensure clarity and fairness.
APPEAL IN CRIMINAL CASES
- Those defendants who are dissatisfied by the verdict may be able to appeal:
- from the Magistrates' Courts, there is an appeal to the Crown Court on matters of fact or law.
- from the Crown Court, it might be possible to appeal to the Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal on matters of fact or law
- certain legal disputes arising in the magistrates' courts or the Crown Court can be taken before the Divisional Court of the High Court
finally, matters of important legal dispute arising in the Crown Court or Divisional Court may be appealed to the House of Lords
HOUSE OF LORDS
- If the court below grants leave to appeal to the House of Lords, the appeal proceeds direct to be considered by an Appellate Committee of the House.
- If the court below refuses leave to appeal, a party may seek leave to appeal from the House itself by presenting a petition for leave to appeal within one month (fourteen days in criminal matters) from the making of the court's order.
- Every admissible petition is referred to an Appeal Committee consisting of three Lords of Appeal which considers preliminary objections to an appeal, to enforce Standing Orders and consider incidental petitions.
- The Appeal Committee considers the petition, which sets out the reasons for granting leave, together with relevant documentation. The Committee will decide whether leave should be refused or whether it should be provisionally allowed. If the Committee are unanimously of the view that a petition should be provisionally allowed the respondents to the petition (that is to say the other party or parties involved in the case) are invited to submit objections within fourteen days as to why leave should not be granted.
- Depending on the objections received, if any, the Committee will decide whether leave should be granted or refused, or, in cases in which the members of the Committee are not unanimous, the petition will be referred for a hearing.
- If no objections are received within the fourteen days, leave is granted.
- If leave to appeal is granted then the appeal may be presented and heard by the House of Lords in the same way as if the court below had itself granted leave.
All English Judges theoretically have both civil and criminal jurisdiction and Judges are usually called to sit in more than one type of court: For example, most High Court Judges sit in the Queen's Bench Division. They will also go to provincial centres ("on circuit") to hear both serious criminal matters in the Crown Court and Civil Matters in High Court sittings outside London.
They will sit in Divisional Courts hearing appeals from Magistrates and Crown Courts on issues of law and also periodically in the Court of Appeal.
In theory, Chancery Judges could hear criminal cases and go on circuit for that purpose like their Queen's Bench brethren. In practice they do not. Rumour has it that the experiment was tried once and the Chancery judges were so horrified by what they found outside in the real world that they imposed quite inordinately savage sentences which kept the Court of Appeal busy for some time. The experiment was therefore not repeated. Likewise, while Circuit Judges are usually assigned to a particular group of County Courts or Crown Courts, they may also sit in the Court of Appeal or be called upon to sit in the High Court.
Jurisdiction is therefore not so much a matter which is personal to the Judge but a matter which is an attribute of the Court where the Judge happens to be sitting: if the Judge (of whatever personal rank) is sitting in the Court of Appeal, he has the jurisdiction of that Court. The Judges sitting as a Court of Appeal would also have jurisdiction as a Divisional Court and cases have been known of a Court of Appeal instantly reconstituting itself as a Divisional Court in order to avoid the need to send an applicant for relief away to apply to another court.
There is, however, within each court a jurisdictional distinction between the Judges and the Masters or Registrars. The latter have limited interlocutory jurisdiction and may try certain types of case only (either with the consent of the parties) or those of limited importance.