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United Kingdom Legal Research Guide

This in-depth guide will help researchers navigate legal materials for the United Kingdom.

Judicial Authority

England and Wales share a unified court system, based on common law principles, which originated in medieval England. Scotland and Northern Ireland each have their own judicial systems.

The court system in Northern Ireland closely resembles that of England and Wales, while the Scottish court system is a hybrid model that combines elements of both common and law and civil law systems.

This research guide focuses on the unified court system of England and Wales. For information about the Scottish judicial system, consult the Scottish Courts and Tribunals website. For information about the judicial system in Northern Ireland, consult the NIDirect website.

The Court System of England & Wales

Source:  Courts & Tribunals website

In England and Wales, most civil cases are heard in the County Court.  Many specialist tribunals have been created to resolve particular types of civil disputes, such as those involving taxation and employment, as well as immigration and asylum cases. All criminal cases originate in the Magistrates' Court, but more serious offenses are referred to the Crown Court.

The High Court functions as both a court of first instance for high value civil claims and as an appellate court for civil and criminal cases. It consists of three divisions: the Queen's Bench, the Chancery Division, and the Family Division.

The Court of Appeal functions solely as an appellate chamber. The Civil Division hears appeals form the High Court and the County Court, and the Criminal Division hears appeals from the Crown Court.

For further information, consult the Courts and Tribunals website.

UK Supreme Court

Courtroom No. 1, UK Supreme Court
(former Middlesex County Guildhall)

Photo by David Iliff via Wikimedia Commons
CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported License

The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom is the final court of appeal for all UK civil cases and for criminal cases that originate in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The Supreme Court consists of 12 permanent justices who are appointed by the Lord Chancellor, a member of the cabinet, at the recommendation of an independent commission.

Prior to the creation of the Supreme Court in 2009, final appeals were heard by the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords (usually referred to as "the Law Lords") a panel of 12 senior judges appointed to sit as members of the upper chamber of Parliament.

The primary impetus for the creation of an institutionally separate Supreme Court was to provide a clearer separation of powers between the legislative and judicial branches of government.

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