Judicial System of United Kingdom
Supreme court: Supreme Court
The Scottish legal system has evolved independently of the rest of the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom Supreme Court is the final court of appeal in civil matters for the whole of the UK, and in criminal matters everywhere except Scotland.
In England and Wales, the High Court of Justice has three divisions – Chancery, Queen’s Bench and Family – that deal with certain more complex civil cases, while the county courts try the majority of civil cases.
The Crown Court has jurisdiction in the most serious criminal cases providing trial by jury; and it sits in a number of locations in England and Wales. One of London’s Crown Courts is the Central Criminal Court, ‘the Old Bailey’.
The magistrates’ courts in England and Wales deal with nearly all criminal cases in the first instance, and a very small proportion of those are referred to the Crown Court for trial. Most magistrates are unpaid lay people.
The Northern Irish judicial system broadly mirrors that in England and Wales, with its own High Court, Crown Court, county courts and magistrates’ courts.
In Scotland, the High Court of Justiciary is the final court of appeal for criminal cases and it tries the most serious criminal cases before a judge and jury. It hears appeals in Edinburgh while it sits at the first instance in a number of locations across Scotland. Other criminal cases are dealt with by the sheriff courts, presided over by a sheriff and, in some instances, a jury, and sitting in 49 locations. The least serious criminal cases come in the first instance before the justice of the peace courts.
The Court of Session is Scotland’s highest civil court, both dealing with the most serious civil cases (occasionally with a jury), and hearing appeals from the sheriff courts, which also have unlimited jurisdiction in civil cases. Appeals from the Court of Session may go to the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.