Understanding the UK courts


The UK courts system is managed and overseen by Her Majesty's Courts Service (HMCS). The HMCS website contains detailed information about the key responsibilities that the HMCS upholds. The UK courts system consists of:

  • The County Court
  • The Magistrates' Court
  • The Crown Court
  • The Royal Courts of Justice
  • Youth Court
  • The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom

County Courts

There are 216 County Courts in the UK courts system. You may know the County Court as the Small Claims Court as they mostly deal with disputes over unpaid debts.

Magistrates' Court

Most of the low-level criminal cases will be heard at the Magistrates' Court. Judges in these courts cover a wide-range of offences. They also deal with civil matters such as the granting of gambling licences.

Crown Court

You may be most familiar with the Crown Court as it is this part of the UK courts system that gets the most exposure on television when serious criminal cases are heard. The Crown Court sits with a 12-person jury. Currently there are 77 Crown Courts in the UK courts system.

Royal Courts of Justice

The Royal Courts of Justice is actually not just on one part of the UK courts system. This court has a number of special groups each with their own courts. These groups include:

  • The Court of Appeal, which has a Civil and a Criminal Division
  • The High Court, which is composed of The Queen's Bench Division, the Chancery Division, and the Chancery Division
  • The Administrative Court (formerly known as the Crown Office). This court deals with a range of cases, including those concerning statutory appeals and applications as well as applications for habeas corpus

The High Court is also responsible for the Office of the Judge Advocate General that tries criminal cases involving men and women in the armed forces.

Youth Court

If a young person aged between 10 and 17 commits a crime, they will usually go before the Youth Courts. These are special UK courts based in the Magistrates' Court. However, the Magistrate can refer more serious crimes to the Crown Court.

The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom

Up until October 2009, the highest UK court was in fact a committee within the House of Lords. The Law Lords as they were called judged matters of law that needed clarification and also heard appeals. The Law Lords have now been replaced with a new court called The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom now rules on points of law for all civil cases in the UK and all criminal cases in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

If you would like to obtain legal advice about the court system, Caven can put you in touch with a local specialist solicitor free of charge.  So, if you have any questions or would like our help in finding local solicitors please call us on 08001 221 2299 or complete the web form above.

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