In this post, we provide a brief overview of the United Kingdom’s court system.
What you see below is a simplified overview of the main courts and their hierarchies.
The details of how which court hears which cases and appeals are far more complex, but for now let’s focus on the basic structure.
At the very top of the court structure sits the United Kingdom Supreme Court – previously called the “House of Lords”.
Below the Supreme Court are the so-called “senior courts” of England and Wales: The Court of Appeal and the High Court.
The senior courts hear cases that are serious or raise important issues. The Court of Appeal hears appeals in criminal and civil matters against decisions made in a county court, in the High Court, and the Crown Court.
The High Court functions as both a court of first instance for high value civil claims and as an appellate court for civil and criminal cases. It consists of three divisions: the Queen’s Bench, the Chancery Division, and the Family Division.
Below the senior courts is the Crown Court. This court sits in various centers throughout England and Wales. It deals with criminal law cases.
Below the Crown Court is the Magistrates’ Court, which is also found throughout the country. The Magistrates’ court mainly hears criminal law cases.
For civil law matters at the lower level, there are County Courts, which deal with civil law matters; as well as Family Courts for family law issues.
Finally, there are various tribunals that deal with specialist issues, such as tax, employment, and others.
The United Kingdom Supreme Court
This is the UK Supreme Court, located in Westminster, in London.
At the Supreme Court, cases are heard either by five, seven or nine of the twelve Justices of the Supreme Court, each of whom reaches an individual decision. Their overall verdict is achieved either by unanimity or at least a simple majority.
The UK Supreme Court is the final court of appeal in the United Kingdom.
Like it US counterpart, the UK Supreme Court only hears appeals for certain cases. These cases must include arguable points of law that are of the greatest public importance.
In civil law cases, the Supreme Court is responsible for hearing cases for the entire United Kingdom.
In criminal cases, it hears cases for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, but not for Scotland.