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The rights and responsibilities of individuals and companies are covered by Civil law: breach of contract, negligence, libel, fraud, house purchase, divorce, rights of access.

Criminal law  covers offences against the state: theft, assault, murder and rape.  Summary offences and indictable crimes in  England and Wales are brought to court by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and in Scotland by the Lord Advocate.


Common law is based on the acceptance of established customs and practices and is the basis of the legal system in England and Wales.  It is an adversarial system in which lawyers argue for and against a case and judgment is made on those arguments.

Roman law is the basis of the legal system in Scotland.  It is based on a set of written codes, the theory of which was established by the ancient Greeks and Romans.  It is  an inquisitorial system in which magistrates actively investigate a case before making judgement.



County Courts.  Civil litigation is dealt with in the county courts before a magistrate or recorder although small claims are usually settled out of court.  Where damages exceed a set amount or the case is complicated it may be referred to the High Court.

High Court of Justice.  The superior civil court.  The High Court has three divisions, each with equal powers however they tend to specialize in particular areas of law.  Queens Bench division deals with commerce and cases referred from the county courts, chancery division deals mainly with common law and family division deals obviously with family law.

Magistrates Courts.  Minor criminal cases are dealt with in the magistrates courts.  These are run by magistrates or recorders who are advised by the clerk of the court.  Appeals and serious cases are referred to the crown court.

The Crown Court.  The superior criminal court.  Crown Court cases are presided over by High Court judges, circuit judges or recorders and always contested before a jury.

Coroners Court.  Not a true court but an enquiry into the cause of death if that death is unnatural or the cause is unknown.  The enquiry is held before a judge and jury.  Treasure Trove is also the jurisdiction of a coroners court.

Appeal Courts.  The appeal courts are split into the civil division and criminal division.  Head of the civil division is the Master of the Rolls.  Head of the criminal division is the Lord Chief Justice.  Appeals are heard from all three divisions of the High Court and the crown courts.

House of Lords.  The supreme court of appeal.  It comprises of the Lord Chancellor and 10 Lords of Appeal in Ordinary (Law Lords).  Very few cases actually reach the House of Lords.

The legal system in Northern Ireland is very similar to that of England and Wales.


District and Sheriff Courts.  Scotland is divided into 6 sheriffdoms each headed by a Sheriff Principal.  Each sheriffdom is further divided into sheriff court districts.  Criminal cases are heard by both a sheriff and jury.  Civil cases are prepared by the procurator fiscal and heard by a lay justice of the peace.

High Court of Justice.  The superior criminal court and court of appeal for criminal cases.  Cases are prepared by the Crown Agent and heard before a judge and jury.  There is no recourse to the House of Lords.

Court of Sessions.  The superior civil court and court of appeal for civil cases.  It is divided into the Inner and Outer House.  The Outer House deals mainly with cases referred to it by the sheriff courts.  The Inner House is mainly an appeal court sub-divided into two equal Divisions that hear appeals from the Outer House and the Sheriff Courts.  All cases are heard before a Judge and jury.  Appeals may be referred to the House of Lords.


The Bar is the collective term for barristers.  Prior to being 'called' to the Bar, lawyers must complete a course in law and be admitted to one of the Inns of Court.  The four Inns are: Lincoln's Inn, Grey's Inn, Inner Temple and Middle Temple.  The main role of the Inns is the education and government of their members.  The Bar Council is the highest governing body of the Bar and Inns of court

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