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The Different Kinds of Courts in England & Wales

Updated on August 23, 2013
Gavel
Gavel

This hub briefly explains the roles of the different courts in England & Wales. The court systems are slightly different in Northern Ireland & Scotland and so a different source will be necessary for those, although their system follows that of England's and Wales' generally speaking.

The system of courts is roughly split into Civil Law and Criminal Law and the varying degrees of the severity of crime.

Birmingham's Snazzy New Magistrate's Court
Birmingham's Snazzy New Magistrate's Court

Crown Court

The Crown Court is simply the court which deals with more serious crimes that have more serious sentences such as murder, rape and theft.

Cases are brought to the Crown Court either when:

  • The crime is serious and needs to be tried by both judge and jury
  • Appeals are made from the magistrates court wherein a judge and at 2 or more magistrates deal with the case
  • The magistrates' court refers cases that they deemed too serious to be dealt by them

A Sussex Crown Court
A Sussex Crown Court

The Magistrates' Court

This is the lowest level court and is designed to deal with low level crimes. It is also known as the 'court of petty sessions' and 'police court'

The Magistrates' Court deals with mainly criminal cases but also some civil cases as well (for the definitions of both click here). The cases are limited to crimes that have occurred in the area that the courts are assigned to.

The cases are dealt with by either Justices of the Peace (unpaid & unqualified judges), aka 'magistrates' or District Judges (who are paid & qualified), aka 'stipendiary magistrates'.

Criminal Cases
All criminal cases start in the magistrates' court. However only crimes that if guilty require a punishment of less than or equal to 6 months imprisonment and/or a £5,000 fine will actually be dealt with by the magistrates' court. Crimes handled in the magistrates' are known as summary offences.

If the crime is more serious, It will be moved to the Crown Court where they will be tried by jury instead of a judge.

Also in many cases, the defendant is given the choice of whether to be tried by a Judge or by Jury, if he chooses Judge then he will be tried at the magistrates' court, if he chooses Jury, he will proceed to the Crown Court.

Civil Cases
Low level civil crimes may be dealt with at the magistrate courts but these are generally limited to things like civil debts, income tax, adoption proceedings and other small problems.

Youth Court
The youth court is a part of the magistrates court. Criminal offences by people of age 10 to 17 are dealt with at this court. Up to 3 specially trained magistrates deal with each case. If the case is of a crime that is deemed punishable by 14 years or more imprisonment then the case may be transferred to the Crown Court. The reason for such a high requirement in terms of the punishment is that prosecution at the Crown Court is deemed to be a less pleasant and more intimidating experience that youths should be protected from.

Leicester County & Crown Court
Leicester County & Crown Court

County Court

The county court deals mainly with minor civil disputes such as the following:

  • Employment problems - wage disputes & salary owing
  • Debt problems
  • Discrimination
  • Discrimination particular to race, sex & disability
  • Landlord and tenant disputes, evictions, rent, and repairs/owner duties
  • Consumer disputes (faulty goods or poor service)
  • Personal injury due to negligence
  • Certain domestic violent cases although they may be heard in the magistrates court.

If a case is defended (the accused did not confess to the crime) then the case will be put on one of three tracks:
small (below £5000), fast, or multi track

A High Court
A High Court

The High Court

The High Court deals with civil cases (click here to learn difference). It also deals with appeals in criminal cases and has the power to review actions of companies or individuals to ensure that they acted legally.

The Family Division
As the name suggests, this division of the High Court deals with all things family. Cases to do with domestic violence, adoption, divorces and dissolutions of civil partnerships and wardships (custody/guardianship) are all handled here. Appeals from magistrates and county courts in matrimonial cases (see here).

The Queen's Bench Division
This division is responsible mainly for complex and/or large claims for compensation. It also deals with particular appeals from the magistrate courts or Crown Courts and can review the actions organisations in order to verify if they have acted legally. Libel and slander are also handled here.

The Chancery Division
Cases to do with trusts, wills, charities, bankruptcy, mortgages, revenue and winding up (dissolving/liquidating) companies.

The Court of Appeal

The court of appeal deals with both civil and criminal appeals from the High Court, criminal cases of the Crown Court, county court and certain tribunals.

The UK Supreme Court

The UK Supreme Court deals with appeals from the Court of Appeal and in rare cases the High Court where the laws involved are in question or when the case is of important to the public.

For further information, click here

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