Monday, 28 February 2011

The Local Courts

This blog has frequently dealt with the Supreme Courts of both the UK and USA.

UK Supreme Court -  Keeping up with Britain's top court - plans for Supreme Court - Opening in 2009 -

US Supreme Court -  US Constitution Art III - Oral arguments - Elena Kagan interview - Louis Brandeis - Packing the Court

But these courts deal with only a tiny proportion of cases. All cases start - and almost all are completed - in the local courts.

In the UK the local courts are the Magistrates Courts and the County Courts. (most places have a Crown Court relatively close to them - but they are less local - and deal with the more serious cases. The High Court has branches in London (Royal Courts of Justice) and around the country (District Registeries - Bedford; Birkenhead; Birmingham; Bradford; Bristol; Canterbury; Chester; Colchester; Croydon; Dewsbury; Halifax; Leeds; Leicester; Lincoln; Liverpool; Manchester; Newcastle upon Tyne; Norwich; Nottingham; Scarborough; Sheffield; Southampton; Teesside (In Middlesbrough); Warrington

To find details about a particular court, or courts in an area - follow this link.

Magistrates Courts have both criminal and civil jurisdiction - but it is their criminal responsibilities which are most noted. All cases start there - and 95% of cases are dealt with there (excluding appeals and referral to the Crown Court for sentencing). Some offences - "summary offences" - The least serious, which includes Driving without insurance; and Common Assault - can only be dealt with in the Magistrates Court. There are an important set of offences - such as Theft and Assault causing actual bodily harm - which are "triable either way". They can be dealt with by the Magistrates or passed on to the Crown Court where a jury sits. The Magistrates decide - but take into account the wishes of the Prosecution - and of the Defendant (There's a useful wiki from Sheffield University about the "right" to a jury trial in England - available here)

The most serious cases involve "indictable offences" - such as Murder; Manslaughter and Rape - and must be heard in the Crown Court - but preliminary hearings are held in the Magistrates Court. The old "committal proceedings" have gone - but an "Early Administrative Hearing" is held dealing with issues of legal aid and bail. The case is then sent to the Crown Court.

On the civil side the main local court is the "County Court" - despite the name they have nothing to do with the counties in England. There are 216 of them. Where a claim is for £15,000 or less, the case must be started in the County Court (£50,000 for personal injury cases).