Law of United Kingdom
#The United Kingdom has three legal systems. English law, which applies in England and Wales, and Northern Ireland law, which applies in Northern Ireland, are based on common-law principles. Scots law, which applies in Scotland, is a pluralistic system based on civil-law principles, with common law elements dating back to the High Middle Ages. The Treaty of Union, put into effect by the Acts of Union in 1707, guaranteed the continued existence of a separate law system for Scotland. The Acts of Union between Great Britain and Ireland in 1800 contained no equivalent provision but preserved the principle of separate courts to be held in Ireland, now Northern Ireland The Appellate Committee of the House of Lords was the highest court in the land for all criminal and civil cases in England and Wales and Northern Ireland, and for all civil cases in Scots law, but in October 2009 was replaced by the new Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. #In England and Wales, the court system is headed by the SC of England and Wales, consisting of the Court of Appeal, the HC of Justice (for civil cases) and the Crown Court (for criminal cases). The Courts of Northern Ireland follow the same pattern. In Scotland the chief courts are the Court of Session, for civil cases, and the High Court of Justiciary, for criminal cases. Sheriff courts have no equivalent outside Scotland as these Courts deal both with criminal and civil caseloads. The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council is the highest court of appeal for several independent Commonwealth countries, the British overseas territories, and the British Crown dependencies. There are also immigration courts with UK-wide jurisdiction — the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal and Special Immigration Appeals Commission. The Employment tribunals and the Employment Appeal Tribunal have jurisdiction throughout Great Britain, but not Northern Ireland.
Three legal systems
There are three distinct legal jurisdictions in the United Kingdom: England and Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. Each has its own legal system
#"English law" is a term of art. It refers to the legal system administered by the courts in England and Wales. The ultimate body of appeal is the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. They rule on both civil and criminal matters. English law is renowned as being the mother of the common law. English law can be described as having its own distinct legal doctrine, distinct from civil law legal systems since 1189. There has been no major codification of the law, and judicial precedents are binding as opposed to persuasive. In the early centuries, the justices and judges were responsible for adapting the Writ system to meet everyday needs, applying a mixture of precedent and common sense to build up a body of internally consistent law, e.g., the Law Merchant began in the Pie-Powder Courts see Court of Piepowder (a corruption of the French "pieds-poudrés" or "dusty feet", meaning ad hoc marketplace courts). As Parliament developed in strength, and subject to the doctrine of separation of powers, legislation gradually overtook judicial law making so that, today, judges are only able to innovate in certain very narrowly defined areas. Time before 1189 was defined in 1276 as being time immemorial. After the Acts of Union, in 1707, English law has been one of two legal systems in the same kingdom and has been influenced by Scots law, most notably in the development and integration of the law merchant by Lord Mansfield and in time the development of the law of negligence. Scottish influence may have influenced the abolition of the forms of action in the nineteenth century and extensive procedural reforms in the twentieth.
Courts of England and Wales
#There are two kinds of criminal trial: 'summary' and 'on indictment'. For an adult, summary trials take place in a magistrates' court, while trials on indictment take place in the Crown Court. Despite the possibility of two venues for trial, almost all criminal cases, however serious, commence in the Magistrates' Courts. It is possible to start a trial for an indictable offence by a voluntary bill of indictment, and go directly to the Crown Court, but that would be unusual. A criminal case that starts in the Magistrates' Court, may begin, either by the defendant being charged and then being brought forcibly before Magistrates, or by summons to the defendant to appear on a certain day before the Magistrates. A summons is usually confined to very minor offences. The hearing (of the charge or summons) before the Magistrates is known as a "first appearance". Offences are of three categories: indictable only, summary and either way. Indictable only offences such as murder and rape must be tried on indictment in the Crown Court. On first appearance, the Magistrates must immediately refer the defendant to the Crown Court for trial, their only role being to decide whether to remand the defendant on bail or in custody. Summary offences, such as most motoring offences, are much less serious and most must be tried in the Magistrates' Court, although a few may be sent for trial to the Crown Court along with other offences that may be tried there (for example assault). The vast majority of offences are also concluded in the Magistrates' Court. Either way offences are intermediate offences such as theft and, with the exception of low value criminal damage, may be tried either summarily (by magistrates) or by Judge and Jury in the Crown Court. If the magistrates consider that an either way offence is too serious for them to deal with, they may "decline jurisdiction" which means that the defendant will have to appear in the Crown Court. Conversely even if the magistrates accept jurisdiction, an adult defendant has a right to compel a jury trial. Defendants under 18 years of age do not have this right and will be tried in the Youth Court (similar to a Magistrates' Court) unless the case is homicide or else is particularly serious. A Magistrates' Court is made up in two ways. Either a group (known as a 'bench') of 'lay magistrates', who do not have to be, and are not normally, lawyers, will hear the case. A lay bench must consist of at least three magistrates. Alternatively a case may be heard by a district judge (formerly known as a stipendiary magistrate), who will be a qualified lawyer and will sit singly, but has the same powers as a lay bench. District judges usually sit in the more busy courts in cities or hear complex cases (e.g. extradition). Magistrates have limited sentencing powers. In the Crown Court, the case is tried by a Recorder (part time judge), Circuit Judge or a High Court judge, with a jury. The status of the judge depends on the seriousness and complexity of the case. The jury is involved only if the defendant pleads "not guilty".
Northern Ireland legal system
#The law of Northern Ireland is a common law system. It is administered by the courts of Northern Ireland, with ultimate appeal to the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom in both civil and criminal matters. The law of Northern Ireland is closely similar to English law, the rules of common law having been imported into the Kingdom of Ireland under English rule. However there are still important differences. The sources of the law of Northern Ireland are English common law, and statute law. Of the latter, statutes of the Parliaments of Ireland, of the United Kingdom and of Northern Ireland are in force, and latterly statutes of the devolved Assembly.
Northern Ireland Courts
Court of Judicature
The Court of Judicature of Northern Ireland is constituted by the Judicature (Northern Ireland) Act 1978. Until 1 October 2009 its name was the Supreme Court of Judicature. The Court of Judicature is the most important superior court of Northern Ireland. It consists of the following courts: The Court of Appeal ("Her Majesty’s Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland") The High Court ("Her Majesty’s High Court of Justice in Northern Ireland") The Crown Court ("Her Majesty’s Crown Court in Northern Ireland")
The title of the court was changed on 1 October 2009 when the relevant provisions of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 came into force establishing the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.
Court of Appeal
The #Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland is the highest court specifically of Northern Ireland. Appeal from the Court of Appeal lies to the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. The Court of Appeal hears appeals from the Crown Court, High Court, county courts, courts of summary jurisdiction and tribunals. High Court
The High Court in Northern Ireland is, like its English equivalent, split into three divisions: Queen's Bench Division, Family Division and Chancery Division. The High Court is located in the Royal Courts of Justice, Belfast. Crown Court
The Crown Court in Northern Ireland hears more serious criminal cases. These are indictable offences and "either way" offences which are committed for trial in the Crown Court rather than the magistrates' courts. County courts
The county courts are the main civil courts. While higher-value cases are heard in the High Court, the county courts hear a wide range of civil actions, consumer claims, and appeals from magistrates' courts. The county courts are called family care centre’s when hearing proceedings brought under the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 and appeals from the family proceedings courts. There are seven county court divisions in Northern Ireland. Subordinate courts
Below the High Court are several classes of courts. Magistrates' courts (including youth courts, family proceedings courts and domestic proceedings courts) hear less-serious criminal cases and conduct preliminary hearings in more serious criminal cases. They are divided into 21 petty sessions districts. The Crown Court hears all serious criminal cases which are committed to trial. When sitting as family proceedings courts the magistrates' courts hear proceedings brought under the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995. Additionally, there is the Enforcement of Judgments Office, and coroners' courts, which investigate the circumstances of sudden, violent or unnatural deaths.
#Scots law is a unique legal system with an ancient basis in Roman law. Grounded in uncodified civil law dating back to the Corpus Juris Civilis, it also features elements of common law with medieval sources. Thus Scotland has a pluralistic, or 'mixed', legal system, comparable to that of South Africa, and, to a lesser degree, the partly codified pluralistic systems of Louisiana and Quebec. Since the Acts of Union, in 1707, it has shared a legislature with the rest of the United Kingdom. Scotland and England & Wales each retained fundamentally different legal systems, but the Union brought English influence on Scots law and vice versa. In recent years Scots law has also been affected by both European law under the Treaty of Rome and the establishment of the Scottish Parliament which may pass legislation within its areas of legislative competence as detailed by the Scotland Act 1998.
Courts of Scotland
High Court of Justiciary
The #High Court of Justiciary is the supreme criminal court. The High Court is both a court of first instance and also a court of appeal. As a court of first instance, the High Court sits mainly in the former Sheriff Court buildings in the Lawnmarket in Edinburgh, in dedicated premises at the Saltmarket in Glasgow, and also sits from time to time in various other places in Scotland. As a court of appeal, it sits only in Edinburgh. Appeals may be made to the High Court of Justiciary sitting as the Court of Criminal Appeal from the lower courts in criminal cases. An appeal may also be made to the High Court if the High Court itself heard the case at first instance. Two judges sit to hear an appeal against sentence, and three judges sit to hear an appeal against conviction. There is no further appeal from the High Court's decision on appeal, in contrast to the Court of Session, from which it is possible to appeal to the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, the highest court. Appeals under the Human Rights Act 1998 and devolution appeals under the Scotland Act 1998 are heard by the UK Supreme Court (formerly the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. Sheriff Court
The #Sheriff Court is the main criminal court; this sits locally. The procedure followed may either be solemn, where the Sheriff sits with a jury of 15; or summary, where the Sheriff sits alone. From 10 December 2007, the maximum penalty that may be imposed in summary cases is 12 months' imprisonment or a £10,000 fine, in solemn cases 5 years' imprisonment or an unlimited fine . A higher sentence in solemn cases may be imposed upon reference to the High Court of Justiciary. District Court
District Courts were introduced in 1975 and sit in each local authority area under summary procedure only. Each court comprises one or more Justices of the Peace (lay magistrates) who sit alone or in threes with a qualified legal assessor as convener or clerk of court. They handle cases of breach of the peace, drunkenness, minor assaults, petty theft, and offences under the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982. The maximum penalty which may be imposed is 60 days' imprisonment or a £2,500 fine. Justice of the Peace Courts
The #Scottish Government is in the process of merging the management of the Sheriff and former District courts, but retaining lay Justices. The Criminal Proceedings etc. (Reform) (Scotland) Act 2007 enables the Scottish Ministers to replace District Courts by "Justice of the Peace Courts". This process is ongoing, and thus many of the District Courts are now abolished and replaced with the new courts, which have strengthened powers to allow more cases to be dealt with at this level.