Structure of the Courts of England and Wales

The Courts of England and Wales is the highest judicial body for criminal cases in England and Wales. It is under the administration of Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service, which is an agency of the Ministry of Justice. In 2017, the Courts of England and Wales received approximately 1.509 million cases and managed to successfully handled 1.503 million of those cases.

Flow of Cases in the Criminal Court System

  • Magistrates’ Court

    The magistrates’ court is the starting point of almost all criminal offences. They are organised across seven geographical regions (London, south west, south east, Midlands, Wales, north east and north west) called circuits, which helps High Court judges schedule their travel when attending cases at magistrates’ courts. There are currently 330 magistrates’ courts spread across the seven circuits. For summary offences (less serious criminal offences), the presiding judge has the authority to sentence the accuse with short jail sentences, fines or community services. For indictable offenses (more serious crimes such as murder, rape, etc.), the judge will conduct a hearing to determine whether there is a case to answer (prima facie). If so, the case will be sent to the Crown Court.

  • Crown Court

    The Crown Court is the highest court of first instance for criminal justice in UK. There are currently 92 Crown Courts in country, and they are typically located in population centres or strategic spots. The Crown Court typically handles indictable criminal cases (serious cases such as robbery and murder) sent from magistrate courts, as well as for sentencing and appeals. Cases at the Crown Court are heard by a circuit judge and jury, who will be tasked with making most decisions. All judgements made here can be appealed at the Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal.

    The Reading Crown Court in Old Shire Hall, Forbury Road. Image courtesy of R Sones

  • High Court of Justice

    The High Court of Justice (EWHC) is the court of first instance for complex family and civil cases. It is divided into three divisions, namely, the Family Divisions, Chancery and Queen’s Bench. The latter division, the Queen’s Bench, is by far the largest of the three.

    The Queen’s Bench Division presides over several wide ranging jurisdictions which are handled by five specialist courts, which are:

    • Admiralty: This is the oldest division of the five, and primarily handles issues arising from matters involving collisions and damages at sea.
    • Commercial: Handles banking, credit and trade matters, both domestic and international
    • Mercantile: Handles disputes for small to medium-sized businesses
    • Technology & Construction: Handles matters revolving around engineering, construction and IT sectors
    • Administrative Courts: Supervise and oversee the legality and quality of decision making, as well as judicial reviews and appeals for cases originating from the Crown and Magistrates’ courts.
  • Court of Appeal

    The Court of Appeal is an appellate court tasked with hearing civil and criminal appeals. In some instances, they also review sentences perceived to be lenient by the Attorney General. The appeals are presided by a bench of three judges. In high profile or exceptional complex cases, the bench will include the Lord or Lady Justice.

  • UK Supreme Court

    The Supreme Court (UKSC) is the highest court and final court of appeal in the land. Established in 2009 following the passage of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, the Supreme Court only hears appeals which revolve on specific points of law affecting public interest for criminal cases originating from England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the whole of UK for civil cases.

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