General Court Structure and Hierarchy
The general court structure and hierarchy is set out below. Note however, that there was an extensive review of the civil court system in England and Wales in 2016, commissioned by the Lord Chief Justice.
The final report "The Civil Courts Structure Review" was published on 27 July 2016. The review made a series of recommendations intended to inform the current programme of wider court modernisations being undertaken by HM Courts and Tribunals Service. It also made a number of recommendations on different aspects of the civil justice system, such as enforcement of court rulings, the structure of the courts and deployment of judges.
The Supreme Court
The Supreme Court is the final court of appeal in the UK. It hears appeals on arguable points of law of public importance for the whole of the UK in civil cases, and for England and Wales and Northern Ireland in criminal cases. In Scotland, appeals can be made from the lower courts in criminal cases to the High Court of Justiciary.
The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, which comprises justices of the Supreme Court and some senior Commonwealth judges, is the final court of appeal for a number of Commonwealth countries, as well as the UK's overseas territories, Crown dependencies and military sovereign bases.
The Court of Appeal
The Court of Appeal and the High Court constitute the 'senior courts' of England and Wales. The Court of Appeal is an appellate court and is divided into two divisions, Criminal and Civil.
The High Court
The High Court hears the more serious and complex civil and family cases at first instance. It contains three divisions: Queen's Bench, Family and Chancery.
The Queen's Bench Division is the biggest of the three High Court divisions. Included within it are a number of specialist courts: the Admiralty, Commercial, Mercantile, Technology & Construction; and Administrative Courts.
The Chancery Division deals with company law, partnership claims, conveyancing, land law, probate, patent and taxation cases. This division has three specialist courts: The Companies Court, the Patents Court and the Bankruptcy Court.
England and Wales are split into six circuits or distinct geographical regions for the practice of law. They are the areas around which the High Court judges travel. The six circuits are: South Eastern, North Eastern, Midland, Northern, Wales and Western.
The County Court
There are approximately 160 County Courts that hear cases within their geographic catchment area. These courts deal with civil (non-criminal and non-family) cases. The County Court hears (subject to exceptions) money claims with a value up to and including GBP100,000 and claims for damages for personal injury with a value up to GBP50,000. Cases are ordinarily held where the defendant resides.
The Family Court
The Family Court was established in 2014. It has national jurisdiction and brought all levels of family judiciary to sit together in the same court.
The Crown Court
The Crown Court sits in centres around England and Wales. This deals with indictable criminal cases that are transferred from the Magistrates' Courts, including serious criminal cases.
These courts hear all criminal cases at first instance. Less serious cases and those involving juveniles are tried in the Magistrates' Courts, as well as some civil cases.
Magistrates deal with three kinds of offence: summary (less serious cases); either-way (cases that can be heard either in a Magistrates' Court or before a judge and a jury in the Crown Court); and indictable-only (serious cases).