Structure of the courts system

Our courts system is complicated and – in places – confusing, because it has developed over 1,000 years rather than being designed from scratch.

Different types of case are dealt with in specific courts: for example, all criminal cases will start in the magistrates’ court, but the more serious criminal matters are committed (or sent) to the Crown Court. Appeals from the Crown Court will go to the High Court, and potentially to the Court of Appeal or even the Supreme Court.

Civil cases will sometimes be dealt with by magistrates, but may well go to a county court. Again, appeals will go to the High Court and then to the Court of Appeal – although to different divisions of those courts.

The tribunals system has its own structure for dealing with cases and appeals, but decisions from different chambers of the Upper Tribunal, and the Employment Appeals Tribunal, may also go to the Court of Appeal.

The courts structure covers England and Wales; the tribunals system covers England, Wales, and in some cases Northern Ireland and Scotland.

The diagrams in the links below show the routes taken by different cases as they go through the courts system, and which judges deal with each.