The English Legal System- the Civil Courts

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CIVIL COURTS
It is important to understand the differences between civil cases and criminal cases. Since civil cases cover a wide range there cannot be a very specific definition which will cover all of them, but a basic definition for civil claims is to say that these arise when an individual or a business believes that their rights have been infringed in some way. Some of the main areas of civil law are: * contract law,

* law of tort,
* family law,
* employment law,
* company law.

The types of dispute that can arise within these areas are equally varied. A company may be claiming that money is owed to them (contract law); this type of claim may be for a few pounds or for several million. An individual may be claiming compensation suffered in an accident which was caused by fault on the part of someone else (the tort of negligence). In another tort case the claim might not be for money but for another remedy such as an injunction to prevent someone from building on disputed land.

The two courts in which civil cases are tried are:
* the County Court,
* the High Court.

The County Court
This court was originally set up in 1846. There are about 230 County Courts, so that most major towns will have a court. The County Court can try nearly all civil cases. The main areas of jurisdiction are:

* small claims, that is a claim for less than £5,000;
* fast-track cases between £5,000 and £25,000;
* multi-track cases for over £25,000 can also be dealt with; * all contract and tort claims;
* all cases for the recovery of land;
* disputes over partnerships, trusts and inheritance up to a value of £30,000. Cases in the County Court are heard by
* a circuit judge
or
* a district judge.
On very rare occasions it is possible for the judge to sit with a jury of eight. This will only happen for certain tort cases for example defamation cases. [Note – defamation means the publication of a statement about a person that tends to lower his reputation in the opinion of right-thinking members of the community or to make them shun or avoid him]

The High Court
It was created in the 1870s. The High Court is based in London but also has judges sitting at 26 towns and cities throughout England and Wales. It has the power to hear any civil case and has three divisions, each of which specialises in hearing certain types of case. These divisions are: * Queen’s Bench Division,

* Chancery Division,
* Family Division.

Queen’s Bench Division
There are nearly 70 High Court judges sitting in this division. It deals with contract and tort cases usually where the amount claimed is over £50,000. However, it is possible for a claimant to start an action for any amount over £25,000. Cases are normally tried by a single judge, but there is a right to jury trial for certain cases including: * fraud cases,

* defamation cases.
When a jury is used there will be 12 members.

Chancery Division
There are about 18 High Court judges sitting to hear cases in this division. The main business of this division involves disputes concerned with such matters as: * insolvency, both for companies and individuals

[Note – insolvency means a situation where a person is unable to pay his/her debts]; * the enforcement of mortgages;
* copyright and patents;
* contested probate actions
[Note – probate means a certificate issued by the Family Division of the High Court, on the application of executors appointed by a will, to the effect that the will is valid and that the executors are authorised to administer the deceased’s estate]. Cases are heard by a single judge.

Juries are never used in the Chancery Division.

Family Division
There are 18 High Court judges sitting to hear cases in this division. It has jurisdiction to hear wardship cases and all cases relating to children under the Children Act 1989. It also deals with other matters regarding the...
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