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UK Court Structure

Diagram of the UK Court structure. Click on image to enlarge view.

The law in England and Wales is divided into criminal law and civil law. Criminal law mostly involves the rules laid down by the state for citizens, while civil law governs the relationships and transactions between citizens.

Most minor criminal cases, called summary offences, are heard in local magistrates' courts. Magistrates' courts also house family proceedings courts and the youth courts. The most serious offences, called indictable-only offences, are passed on by the magistrates' courts to the Crown Court to be heard. Only Crown Court judges have the power to pass sentences above a certain level of severity, and so some cases may be transferred from magistrates' courts for sentencing once a verdict has been reached.

The High Court sits at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, as well as at some major court centres around the country. The work is handled by three divisions, depending on its subject:

a)   Chancery Division: equity, trusts, tax, bankruptcy

b)   Queen's Bench Division: contract, tort, commercial matters

c)   Family Division: divorce, children, probate.

The Court of Appeal also sits at the Royal Courts of Justice. The Criminal Division hears appeals from Crown Court cases, while the Civil Division receives appeals from the High Court, tribunals and, in certain cases, county courts.

The Middlesex Guildhall in London
is the location of the Supreme Court
For most legal cases in England and Wales, the Supreme Court is the final point of appeal. The House of Lords used to be the final point of appeal until October 2009. The Supreme Court receives appeals from the courts in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Administrative law cases are mostly heard in tribunals specific to the subject, while civil and criminal cases are heard in the main court system.

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