The Crown Court of England and Wales is a criminal court of both original and appellate jurisdiction. The Crown Court is the only court in England and Wales that has the jurisdiction to try cases on indictment (i.e. trial by judge and jury). It also hears appeals against decisions made in the magistrates’ courts and deals with cases sent from magistrates’ courts for sentence.
3.1.3. Subordinate courts
22.214.171.124. County Courts
County Courts are statutory courts with a purely civil jurisdiction. They are presided over by either a District or Circuit Judge and, except in a small minority of cases such as civil actions against the Police, the judge sits alone as trier of fact and law without assistance from a jury. County Courts are local courts in the sense that each one has an area over which certain kinds of jurisdiction – mostly actions concerning land – are exercised.
The County Court is the workhorse of the civil justice system in England and Wales. There are 218 county courts which deal with the majority of civil cases, as well as some family and bankruptcy hearings. A large number of cases come before the county courts and it is here that all but the most complicated civil law proceedings are handled. The County Courts generally hear matters with a financial value of £50,000 or under.
126.96.36.199. Magistrates’ Courts
A Magistrates’ Court, or court of petty sessions, is the lowest level of criminal court in England and Wales. Magistrates’ Courts are presided over by a tribunal consisting of two or more (most commonly three) lay magistrates or Justices of the Peace, or a legally-trained District Judge, sitting in each local justice area, and dispensing summary justice, under powers usually limited by statute.
No formal qualifications are required but magistrates need intelligence, common sense, integrity and the capacity to act fairly. Membership is widely spread throughout the local area and drawn from all walks of life. All magistrates are carefully trained before sitting and continue to receive training throughout their service. Magistrates are unpaid volunteers but they may receive allowances to cover travelling expenses and subsistence. Lay justices or magistrates must sit for a minimum of 26 sessions (half-days) per year, but some sit as much as a day a week, or possibly more.
The magistrates' courts are a key part of the criminal justice system – virtually all criminal cases start in a magistrates' court and over 95% of cases are also completed here. Magistrates' courts today can deal with minor offences (fines of up to £15,000, and imprisonment of up to 9 months or 15 months for consecutive sentences). In addition, magistrates’ courts deal with many civil cases, mostly family matters plus liquor licensing, betting and gaming work.
3.2. The Court Systems of Scotland and Northern Ireland
In Northern Ireland and Scotland there are autonomous judiciary systems. In Northern Ireland the judiciary comprises courts analogous to England and Wales’s ones (Court of Appeal, High Court, Crown Court, County Courts and Magistrates’ Courts). The system of courts in Scotland is rather different (the superior courts are High Court of Justiciary and Court of Session; the lower courts are Sheriff Courts and District Courts).