Hierarchy of Courts of England and Wales

The court system of England and Wales is a complex hierarchy of courts that deal with a wide range of legal issues. From minor criminal offences to major civil disputes, the courts of England and Wales provide a vital service for resolving disputes and enforcing the law. Their hierarchy is explained below.

Magistrates' Courts
Magistrates' Courts are the lowest level of courts in the hierarchy of the courts in England and Wales. There are around 300 magistrates' courts across the country, and they deal with minor criminal offences such as traffic violations, minor assaults, and theft. They can also hear some civil cases, including family cases such as domestic violence or disputes over child custody. Magistrates are appointed from the local community and are not legally qualified judges.

County Courts
County Courts are the next level in the court hierarchy and are the primary civil courts in England and Wales. There are over 200 County Courts throughout England and Wales, and they deal with a wide range of civil cases, including debt recovery, personal injury claims, housing disputes, and disputes between individuals or businesses. County Courts also hear some family cases, including divorce and financial disputes. Judges in County Courts are legally qualified and have the power to make legally binding decisions.

Crown Courts
Crown Courts deal with more serious criminal cases, including murder, rape, and drug offences, and some complex civil cases. They are also responsible for hearing appeals from the Magistrates' Court and the County Court. There are around 80 Crown Courts throughout England and Wales. Crown Courts are presided over by a Circuit Judge, who is legally qualified and experienced in dealing with criminal cases.

High Court
The High Court is the next level in the court hierarchy and has both civil and criminal divisions. It deals with the most serious criminal cases, including terrorism, murder as well as complex civil cases. The High Court also has jurisdiction over judicial reviews and appeals from lower courts. There are three divisions of the High Court: the King's Bench Division, the Chancery Division, and the Family Division.

Family Court
Established in 2014, the Family Court and the Family Division of the High Court are specialist courts that deals with all family-related issues, including divorce, financial disputes, adoption, and child protection. The Family Court has its own set of rules and procedures and is presided over by judges who are specially trained in family law. Most Family cases are heard in the Family Court first while appeal cases and a limited number of cases are directly heard in the Family Division of the High Court.

Court of Appeal
The Court of Appeal is divided into two divisions: the Civil Division and the Criminal Division. It hears appeals from the High Court and other lower courts, including the Crown Court and the County Court. The Civil Division deals with appeals from the High Court and County Court in civil cases, while the Criminal Division deals with appeals from the Crown Court and other lower courts in criminal cases. The Court of Appeal is presided over by a panel of judges, including the Lord Chief Justice and other senior judges.

Supreme Court
The Supreme Court is the highest court in England and Wales and is the final court of appeal in all civil and criminal cases. It also hears appeals from other UK jurisdictions and deals with cases involving devolution issues. The Supreme Court is located in London and has 12 justices, including the President of the Supreme Court and the Deputy President. The Supreme Court is responsible for ensuring that the law is correctly interpreted and applied in all cases heard by the courts in England and Wales.

In addition to the courts, there is another important part of the legal system in England and Wales, which is the system of tribunals. Tribunals are specialised bodies that have the power to make legally binding decisions on specific areas of law. They are set up to provide a more accessible and informal way of resolving disputes that may not require the full process of a court case.

There are over 70 tribunals in England and Wales, covering a wide range of areas such as employment, immigration, social security, and tax. Some of the main tribunals include:

Employment Tribunals
Employment Tribunals address disputes between employers and employees, covering issues such as unfair dismissal, discrimination, wage disputes, and other employment-related matters. These tribunals provide a platform for employees to seek redress for grievances against their employers. The process is generally less formal than court proceedings and aims to offer a quicker resolution.

Immigration Tribunals
Immigration Tribunals hear appeals from decisions made by the Home Office regarding immigration and asylum cases. These tribunals are critical for individuals seeking to challenge refusals of visas, deportation orders, or asylum denials. The Immigration and Asylum Chamber of the tribunal system deals with these appeals, ensuring that individuals have a fair opportunity to present their case against the government's immigration decisions.

Social Security and Child Support Tribunals
These tribunals handle disputes over social security benefits and child support payments. Individuals who believe they have been wrongly denied benefits or are facing issues with child support calculations can appeal to these tribunals. The aim is to provide a specialised and accessible forum for resolving disputes related to welfare benefits, including disability benefits, unemployment benefits, and other social security entitlements.

Tax Tribunals
Tax Tribunals hear appeals from taxpayers challenging decisions made by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) on tax issues. These tribunals cover a wide range of tax-related disputes, including income tax, corporation tax, VAT, and other tax matters. The tribunals ensure that taxpayers have a fair chance to contest HMRC's decisions, providing an independent review of tax assessments, penalties, and other determinations.

Tribunals are presided over by specialist judges or panels, who have expertise in the relevant area of law. Unlike courts, tribunals are often less formal and allow for more flexible procedures. They also tend to be quicker and cheaper than court proceedings, making them a popular choice for resolving disputes.
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