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Judiciary of England and Wales

There are various levels of judiciary in England and Wales – different types of courts have different styles of judges. They also form a strict hierarchy of importance, in line with the order of the courts in which they sit, so that judges of the Court of Appeal of England and Wales are generally given more weight than district judges sitting in County Courts and Magistrates.

By statute, judges are guaranteed continuing judicial independence.

The following is a list of the various types of judges who sit in the Courts of England and Wales:

1. Lord Chief Justice and Lord Chancellor

2. Justices of the Supreme Court

3. Court of Appeal

4. High Court

5. Circuit Judges

6. Recorders

7. District Judges

8. Magistrates

Since 3 April 2006 the Lord Chief Justice has been the overall head of the judiciary. The Lord Chief Justice is also the head of the Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal. Although the Lord Chancellor is no longer a judge, he still exercises disciplinary authority over the judges, jointly with the Lord Chief Justice. He also has a role in appointing judges. In court, the Lord Chief Justice wears a black damask gown with gold lace along with a short wig during criminal cases and the black civil gown with gold tabs during civil cases. The Lord Chancellor simply wears the black damask gown with gold lace and full wig during ceremonial occasions.

The judges of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom are known as Justices of the Supreme Court, and they are also Privy Counsellors.

Judges of the Court of Appeal are known as Lord Justices, and they too are Privy Counsellors. Formerly, Lord Justices of Appeal could only be drawn from barristers of at least 10 years’ standing. In practice, much greater experience was necessary but now a potential Lord Justice of Appeal must satisfy the judicial-appointment eligibility condition on a 7-year basis.

A Recorder is a part-time circuit judge, usually a practicing barrister or solicitor.

Magistrates are Laymen drawn from the community who generally sit in threes in order to give judgment in Magistrates’ Courts and Youth Courts.

A coroner or forensics examiner is an official chiefly responsible for investigating deaths, particularly some of those happening under unusual circumstances, and determining the cause of death. To become a coroner in England and Wales the applicant must have a degree in a medical or legal field, e.g. criminology, bio-medical sciences. Generally, coroners have had a previous career as a lawyer (solicitor/barrister) or doctor of at least five years standing. The coroner’s jurisdiction is limited to finding the name of the deceased and the cause of death. When the death was unexpected, violent or unnatural, the coroner will decide whether to hold a post-mortem and, if necessary, an inquest.

Unit 2. The system of court in Britain.

Exercise 13. Read and translate the texts.

The court system

A. Civil courts

Both criminal and civil courts in England and Wales primarily hear evidence and aim to determine what exactly happened in a case. Broadly speaking, the lower courts decide matters of fact and the upper courts normally deal with points of law. In England, simple civil actions, for example family matters such as undefended divorce, are normally heard in either the Magistrates’ Courts or the County Courts.

Judges have different titles depending on their experience, training, and level. A single stipendiary magistrate or three lay magistrates sit in the Magistrates’ Court. There’s no jury in a Magistrates’ Court. Family cases may go on appeal from the Magistrates’ Court to the County Courts. The County Court also hears complex first instance civil cases, such as contract disputes, compensation claims, consumer complaints about faulty goods or services, and bankruptcy cases. Claimants, previously referred to as plaintiffs, may seek a legal remedy for some harm or injury they have suffered. There are circuit judges and recorders who sit in the County Courts, usually without a jury. Juries are now rare in civil actions, so normally the judge considers both law and fact.

More complex civil cases, such as the administration of estates and actions for the recovery of land, are heard in the High Court of Justice, which is divided into three divisions: Family, Chancery and Queen’s Bench. The court has both original, that is, first instance, and appellate jurisdiction. From the High Court cases may go on appeal to the civil division of the Court of Appeal, which can reverse or uphold a decision of the lower courts. Its decisions bind all the lower civil courts. Civil cases may leapfrog from the High Court to the House of Lords, bypassing the Court of Appeal, when points of law of general public importance are involved. Appellants must, however, apply for leave to appeal. Decisions of the House of Lords are binding on all other courts but not necessarily on itself. The court of the House of Lords consists of twelve life peers appointed from judges and barristers. The quorum, or minimum number, of law lords for an appeal hearing is normally three, but generally there is a sitting of five judges.


Note: A stipendiary is a full-time paid magistrate who has qualified as a lawyer.

A lay magistrate is unpaid and is an established member of the local community.

A circuit is a geographical division for legal purposes; England and Wales are divided into six.

A recorder is a part-time judge with ten years standing as a barrister or solicitor.


B. Criminal courts

About 95% of all criminal cases in England and Wales are tried in the Magistrates’ Courts, which deal with petty crimes, that is, less serious ones. In certain circumstances, the court may commit an accused person to the Crown Court for more severe punishment, either by way of a fine or imprisonment. Except in cases of homicide, children under 14 and young persons – that is, minors between 14 and 17 years of age – must always be tried summarily, meaning without a jury, by a Youth Court. A Youth Court is a branch of the Magistrates’ Court. Indictable offences, that is, more serious ones such as theft, assault, drug dealing, and murder, are reserved for trial in the Crown Court. In almost all criminal cases, the State, in the name of the Crown, prosecutes a person alleged to have committed a crime. In England and Wales, a jury of twelve people decides whether the defendant is guilty of the crime she or he is charged with. The Crown Court may hear cases in circuit areas. From the Crown Court, appeal against conviction or sentence lies to the Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal. If leave to appeal is granted by that court, cases may go on appeal to the House of Lords.


Date: 2016-01-14; view: 2352

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