Supreme Court The United Kingdom

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This guidance note presents a coherent picture of the ‘English Judicial System’ as a whole, with special focus on the distinct functions of the civil and the criminal courts, as well as the appellate routes available in the judicial setup.

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The Supreme Court

Established under Section 23 of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, the Supreme Court is the ultimate Court of Appeal in the United Kingdom. The Appellate jurisdiction of the Court, in respect of civil cases extends to the whole of United Kingdom, whereas in respect of the criminal cases extends to England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Exception being Scotland, all appeals from orders and judgements of lower courts in criminal cases are heard by the High Court of Justiciary, being the supreme criminal court for Scotland. Besides civil and criminal jurisdiction, the Supreme Court also exercises devolution jurisdiction of the Privy Council for deciding issues

concerning devolved executive and legislative authorities in Wales Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Supreme Court has the power to determine any question necessary to be determined for the purposes of doing justice in an appeal to it under any enactment, either unanimously or through a majority decision. Appeals shall lie to the Supreme Court from an order or judgement of the Court of Appeal in civil proceedings on the permission of the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court. Leave to appeal shall be granted only where such appeal raises a question of general public importance. Under the special leapfrog procedure, the Supreme Court shall also entertain appeals directed against any order or judgement of the High Court if it involves general public importance. Appeals under the leapfrog procedure shall be subject to grant of certificate by the High Court under Section 12 of the Administration of Justice Act 1969 or permission to appeal from the Supreme Court.

The Court of Appeal

Regarded as the senior court of England and Wales, the Court of Appeal exercises exclusive appellate jurisdiction under its two divisions namely, the Civil and the Criminal Division.

The Court entertains appeals from any order or judgement of the High Court, subject to three provisos as under: Subject to any other contrary statutory provision (e.g. Leapfrog appeals) Subject to any order of Lord Chancellor under Section 56(1) of the Access to Justice Act, 1999 determining whether the appeal shall lie to County Court, High Court or the Court of Appeal. Appeal from High Court sitting as prize court shall lie to Her majesty in Council and not to the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal has the power to draw any inference of fact and order new trial, or order judgement to be entered for any party, or make a final or other order to determine real question of controversy

between the parties. The Court is also empowered to make such orders and directions as may be necessary to ensure efficient management and conduct of appeals. The Civil Division entertains appeals from any order or judgement of the High Court in civil and family cases, from some orders or judgements of the County Court as well as some Tribunals. The Criminal Division entertains appeals from any order or judgment of the crown Court in criminal cases as well as points of law referred by the Attorney General.

The High Court

Besides being a senior appellate court, the High court is the Court of First-Instance for the most serious civil criminal and family cases. The court is comprised of three Divisions- The Queen’s Bench Division exercises criminal jurisdiction besides entertaining some complex civil cases involving contracts, tort and libel which otherwise are not maintainable before the county courts. The Division comprises of different specialist courts which include Admiralty Court, the Commercial Court, the Mercantile Court, the Technology and Construction Court and the Administrative Court. The Queen’s Bench Division, in exercise of criminal appellate jurisdiction, entertains appeals from any order or judgement of the Crown Court or that of the Magistrates’ Court in summary trials on the ground that the decision is wrong in law or that the court below has exceeded jurisdiction. The Division also exercises supervisory jurisdiction by means of judicial review. The Chancery Division comprises of three specialist courts namely the Companies Court, the Partnerships Court and the Bankruptcy Court. The jurisdiction of Chancery Division extends to partnership claims, land disputes, conveyancing, contentious probate, administration of estates, equity and trusts, company law, patent and taxation cases. The Family Division deals with issues involving families such as divorce, child custody, maintenance, adoption, guardianship and other related to children. The Probate Registry of the division in England and Wales deals with undisputed probate cases and those involving legal enforcement and validity of wills.

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The Crown Court

Having original criminal jurisdiction, the Crown Court is the Court of first-instance for indictable criminal cases. Serious criminal cases involving offences like rape and murder are also transferred from the Magistrates’ Court for sentencing. Appeals from the decision of the Crown Court lie to the Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal. In exercise of appellate jurisdiction, the Crown Court entertains appeals form the order or judgment of the Magistrates’ Court on sentences as well as licensing decision. In certain instances, appeals may also lie from decision of local authorities.

The County Court

Constituted under the County Courts Act 1984, this Court exercises original civil jurisdiction that is concurrent with the jurisdiction of the High court but subject to the financial limitations, territorial limitations and limitations as to the subject matter. It is regarded as the trial court for all civil cases and deals mostly with cases of recovery of money, compensation, prevention of trespass etc. Presided over by the Circuit Judges and District Judges, the appellate jurisdiction of county Courts is limited and only in few instances the Circuit Judges may hear appeals from the decision of the District Judges.

The Family Court

Family disputes are no longer heard in the County Courts as the same are subject to the jurisdiction of the Family Court which comprises of all levels of the judiciary under one roof- the magistrates’, District Judges, Circuit Judges and High Court Judges. Appeals from the decision of the Family Court are made to the Family Division of the High Court.

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The Magistrates’ Court

All criminal cases of first instance are heard by the Magistrates’ Court, except those involving serious indictable offences which are transferred to the Crown Court after a preliminary hearing. Trials of all less serious offences, either-way offences as well as those involving juveniles are conducted by the Magistrates’ Court besides some civil disputes involving licensing, family, children and debts. Appeals against the civil decisions of the Magistrates’ Court are made to the County Courts while that against the criminal decisions are made to the Queen’s bench Division of the High Court.

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