|The Judicial System of Great Britain.|
The structure of the court system in Britain is many-layered.
The courts in GB are divided into two large groups: criminal courts and civil courts.
Besides, there are many special tribunals, for example, industrial tribunals dealing with labour disputes and industrial injury compensation.
CRIMINAL COURTS are Magistrates’ courts and Crown courts.
Magistrates’ courts are courts of first instance.
There are over 600 magistrates’ courts and over 28,000 JPs in GB.
They deal with about 95 per cent of minor criminal cases: motoring offences, petty theft, drunkenness, minor offences of violence and other breaches of public order.
A magistrates’ court normally consists of three JPs (Justices of the Peace).
JPs are ordinary members of the community.
They are appointed by Lord Chancellor on the recommendation of a Judicial Appointments Commission.
JPs are not legally qualified.
They work in the court from 30 to 50 days a year.
They receive no payment for their work.
They are advised on points of law by a legally qualified clerk.
In some major cities, including London, there are District Judges in magistrates’ courts.
Until recently they were called Stipendiary Magistrates.
There are 124 District Judges in the country.
They are qualified lawyers, work full time and are paid salaries.
They sit alone and deal with more complicated cases.
The magistrates may impose a fine up to a general limit of 2,000 pounds or six months’imprisonment, and may refer cases requiring a heavier penalty to the Crown court.
Crown courts try serious cases such as murder, rape, arson, armed robbery, fraud, child abuse, and so on.
A Crown court is presided over by a judge, but the verdict is reached by a jury of twelve citizens, randomly selected from the local electoral rolls.
The judge’s functions are, first, to see that the trial is properly conducted; second, to give guidance to the jury before asking it for its verdict; and finally, if the jury finds the accused guilty, to decide upon the penalty and pronounce a sentence.
For this last decision the judge is helped by two JPs.
Only professional judges work in the Crown courts: High Court Judges, Circuit Judges and Recorders.
There are 650 Circuit Judges and 1350 Recorders in GB.
^ include County courts and the High Court.
County courts are the courts of first instance.
There are 500 county courts in Britain.
County courts hear minor civil cases.
Only professional judges work in county courts.
They are Circuit Judges who also work in the Crown courts.
They must retire at the age of 72.
The High Court of Justice is above the county courts and consists of three separate independent of each other subdivisions: the Queen’s Bench Division, the Chancery Division and the Family Division.
The Queen’s Bench Division consists of about 80 High Court Judges.
Till October 2005 the head was Lord Chief Justice, but since October 2005 the head of this division is the President.
The judges of this Division try criminal and civil cases both in London and other cities.
They also take appeals from Crown courts and Magistrates’ courts.
This Division includes Commercial Court specializing in large commercial disputes and Admiralty Court for shipping cases.
The Chancery Division consists of about 20 High Court Judges and is headed by the Chancellor of the High Court.
It deals with questions of company law, bankruptcy, trusts, patents, taxes, finance and property.
The Chancery Division deals only with civil cases.
The Family Division consists of 20 High Court Judges and is headed by the President of the Family Division.
It deals with divorce, separation of spouses, wills, adoption of children, guardianship and some other matrimonial and family matters.
Appeals against decisions of the High Court and the Crown court may be taken to the Court of Appeal with its Criminal and Civil divisions.
The Appeal Court judges who deal with civil cases are the Master of the Rolls and 37 Lords Justices of Appeal.
The appeals in civil cases will each be heard by three Lord Justices sitting together or sometimes two Lord Justices may sit alone, or with a High Court Judge.
The appeals in criminal cases will each be heard by the Lord Chief Justice or a Lord Justice of Appeal with two High Court Judges of the Queen’s Bench Division.
Till October 2009 the highest court in the country was the House of Lords.
Its full official name was the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords.
It consisted of 12 Lords of Appeal in Ordinary (Law Lords) and was the final court of appeal in both civil and criminal cases.
The Constitutional Reform Act 2005 established the new Supreme Court of the United Kingdom to replace the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords.
The main reason for the establishment of this court is to separate legislative and judicial powers in the country.
The Supreme Court started to operate in October 2009.