Written by Peter Fisher – v2lawblog
Broadly, the courts split into two categories, Civil which is often to do with contracts, property, employment and family law. Generally to do with money
And then there’s Criminal, which is the breach of immoral and disobedient laws ranging from criminal damage to property and theft, right up to murder.
From here, as you can see from the chart there is a climbing ladder of courts which in turn deal with more severe cases.
A magistrate’s court is the least serious criminal court which will often deal with minor cases such as criminal damage, to a bus stop for example; or threatening words amounting to an assault with no inflection of unlawful personal violence. In truth most more severe cases start off in the magistrates court and are passed on to a higher court during the PCMH – Pleas and Cases Mandatory Hearing which as a formality of the courts will occur the first time a case is brought to court in each subsequent court it may visit. The case of R v Paul Chambers, the Twitter joke trial, originated in a magistrates court and was concluded in the Court of Appeals
Like the Magistrates Court, the county court deals with the least serious civil offenses. These are defined as disputes involving £500 or less. If a case is in excess of this sum it will go straight to the High Court
The Crown Court is the most common criminal court which deals with cases passed on through the magistrate’s court and those involving actual bodily harm, grievous bodily harm, robbery, burglary and generally offenses that are more serious than the most trivial petty crimes.
The High Court is the most common civil court and deals with most civil cases, in rare circumstances where the disputed sum is very high the case may be passed on to a higher court, though generally speaking this not likely to be the case. If you have an issue regarding property, divorce, child custody and anything similar you would attend this this type of court. This court is divided into the Family, Queens Bench and Chancery divisions.
The Court of Appeals
The Royal Court of Justice in central London is best known appeals court, it is split into two divisions the criminal and civil division and as the name suggests it only deals with appeals cases. An appeal in a criminal case occurs when the defendant believes the judge was wrong to sentence them for such a length of time or that a point of law raised was incorrect. The prosecution may appeal for the same reasons but an additional reason is that they might believe the sentence to be too lenient and therefore appeal for a longer sentence. In civil cases an appeal occurs when one party is dissatisfied with the outcome of a decision namely because the decision is in equitable or there is a dispute over the correct interpretation of the law
House of Lords
The House of Lords used to be the highest court in England but it has since been replaced with the Supreme Court. This change will likely see far less cases appear before the lords and rather be sent to the Supreme Court. However, the House of Lords is still a law court in England which only deals with disputes about the interpretation of the law regardless of whether they are civil or criminal and often factors their decision on a single legal question i.e. is this interpretation right or is that one?
The Supreme Court is the highest court in the UK and will deal with the most serious and most complicated criminal and civil cases. An example of such a case is Radmacher v Granito 2010 where a German couple had signed a prenuptial agreement in Germany and subsequently got divorced in London. Granito the husband took Radmacher to court in order to get a fair share of the assets as prenuptial agreements do not exist in the UK. The Supreme Court concluded that the British courts will recognise the authority of a prenuptial agreement made in a country where they are legal and valid.
The European Court of Justice
In accordance with the European Communities Act, the European Court of Justice is the highest court in the English legal system. It is unlikely that an individual might find themselves that this court but rather public institutes which are found to be in breach of the Human Rights Act.