“What is Law? ” This is the most popular question to people from all walks of life. According to the meaning in dictionary, Law means, “the system of rules which a particular country or community recognises as regulating the actions of its members and which it may enforce by the imposition of penalties”. 1 In English legal system, there is a separation of power which dividing the whole legal system into three roles. They are the Legislature (the Parliament), the Judiciary (the English courts) and the Executive (the government).
Focusing on the judicial part of English legal system, the English courts have the duty of applying and interpreting different sources of law, which are statute law and case law. The English courts system has it own hierarchical structure, as well as significant separation of criminal courts and civil courts. In this essay, we will outline, compare and appraise the English court system with our experience of court visit. Speaking of court visit, we have visited the Newcastle Crown Court for criminal cases without jury and the Sunderland County Court for civil case. The two courts have distinct aims and legal procedures.
Certainly, the penalties are different between two cases. In the viewpoint of legal professions, the manner of dealing a trial would be dissimilar. 2 Prior to s 3 of the Courts Act 19713, the Assizes and the Quarter Sessions were the major criminal courts. However, they were replaced by the Crown Court. It is a single court sitting over 90 centres which also dividing into six circuits in England and Wales. These centres are divided into three tiers. Legal personnel in each tier will handle with different kinds of cases. 4 1 Oxford University Press (2013) accessed on 22 November 2013 2 J Holland and J Webb, Learning Legal Rules (7th edn, OUP 2010) 15 3 Crown, ‘Courts Act 1971’ < http://www. legislation. gov. uk/ukpga/1971/23/contents> accessed 22 November 2013 4 G Slapper and D Kelly, The English Legal System (12th edn, Routledge 2011) 246-?
249 Among the English court system, the Crown Court usually be the first court to deal with the more serious crime trials such as serious sexual offences and homicide. It has the appellate function, and thus, it would hear the appeals from the lower courts, the magistrates’ courts, with the power to confirm, reverse and vary the decision of the appellate cases. Moreover, it can also impose any sentence, which could have imposed earlier by the magistrates’ courts and be much more harsher.
The Crown Court has the power of imposing life sentences. 5 On the other hand, with the enactment of County Court Act 1846, the County Courts were introduced to adjudicate in small claims or fast-? track civil litigations. There are more than 200 county courts serving by the circuit judges and district judges. 6 The County Court hears small-? scale civil cases while mostly depending on monetary value of the claims. The civil litigation would divide into three tracks which are small claim track, fast track and multi-? track. These tracks of claims are for deciding which court should involves in. The County Court hears all small claims cases and all fast track case.
It can also deal with multi-? track cases above 15000 pounds. However, unless the parties agree, cases above 50000 pounds in value are not usually heard in the County Court. Multi-? track is normally heard in the High Court. Moreover, it usually involves in matter of contract and tort, family, jurisdiction by agreement, probation, equity and even admiralty matter. 7 Some of the County Courts would also deal with the matter of bankruptcy and appeal of administrative matters. There are still a lot of matters that the County Court would deal with.
Under Civil Procedure Rule (CPR)8, which established to improve access to justice and give the rules of civil procedure, the County Court has to follow 5 T Ingman, The English Legal Process (12th edn, OUP 2008) G Slapper and D Kelly, The English Legal System (12th edn, Routledge 2011) 167 7 S. H. Bailey, J. P. L Ching and N. W. Taylor The Modern English Legal System (5th edn, Sweet & Maxwell 2007) 8 Civil Procedure Rule 6 1 the rules cited in CPR in order to have more efficient legal proceedings. The legal proceedings become less costly, quicker and more understandable to the public. No jury will be in the trial of a civil case.
Obviously, the roles of the two courts are different. Crown Court deals with criminal matters which involve criminal offences and legal punishments, while the County Court deals with civil matters which involve the disputes between individuals and organization. The most distinct thing between them is their judicial aims. The aim of Crown Court is to stabilise society with punishing the criminal wrongdoers in order to discourage them from committing the offence again. For County Court, its aim is to solve the disputes between two legal entities, such as corporation, organization and individual.
By means of function in these two courts, the way of adjudication is also different. In Crown Court, the judges would likely be the one who advise the jury for making decision. The jury would decide whether the defendant is guilty or not. However, since there is no jury in the County Court, the judge would be the one who make the decision whether the defendant is liable or not. Sometimes, there would be trials without jury in criminal court, but the standard of proof and burden of proof is different. Moreover, although their positions in the court hierarchy are the same for being the second court in the English court system, their power are contrast.
Crown Court has the power to give prison sentence to guilty defendants. On the second hand, the County Court has limited power on small claims case while the type of punishment would be compensation for injuries or losses, or even injunction in nuisance. Though the roles and functions are distinct in the Crown Court and the County Court, their positions are the same, which are the upper inferior courts. In the English court hierarchy, they 2 are the courts having the first instance of cases while the powers are wider than the Tribunals and Magistrates’ Court. Among all criminal courts, the Crown Court is above the Magistrates’ Court but below the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court (also known as House of Lord before the enactment of Constitutional Reform Act 20059).
As mentioned, it has the first instance of indictable offences and either way offences from the magistrates’ courts, which only deal with summary offences. When the magistrates’ courts think that the sentencing power is not enough after hearing an either way offence, they will pass to the Crown Court. Appeals against conviction from Magistrates’ Courts will be also sent to the Crown Court while it has the power to confirm, reverse and vary the decision of the appellate cases.
Furthermore, if there is any appeal for the conviction or sentence, it will pass to the criminal division of Court of Appeal or even to the Supreme Court for further appeal. Apart from the passing of cases throughout the hierarchy, the Crown Courts is bound by the decisions of Court of Appeal and Supreme Court which known as judicial precedents. They do not create precedents and not bound by its own decisions. However, if the judge is a High Court judge, he will try to create a “persuasive” precedent, which affects how judges make decisions in the future. 10 For the County Court, it is the court above the tribunals/magistrates’ court but below the High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court. It involves in the majority of civil litigation depending on the nature of claims.
The High Court will hear the appeal from the County Court with three divisions. Those three divisions are responsible to different nature of cases. The appeals can also go to the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court if the defendants are not 9 Constitutional Reform Act 2005 S. H. Bailey, J. P. L Ching and N. W. Taylor, The Modern English Legal System (5th edn, Sweet & Maxwell 2007) 484 3 10 satisfied with the result. In part of decision-? making, the decisions of County Court would not constitute any precedent for binding lower courts or even themselves. Unlike the higher/upper courts, its decisions are rarely reported to the public.
Legal Personnel in the court can tell us the distinct operation of the Crown Court and the County Court. During the visit at the Crown Court in Newcastle, we saw the Circuit Judge, Court Reporter, Court Clerk, Probation Officer, Barristers, Solicitors, Defendants, Dock Officer, Newspaper Reporter and The Public . The Circuit Judge wore a violet robe and a short wig. Because we were hearing a criminal case that time, so the Judge also wore a red tippet over the left shoulder. 11 We heard that the lawyers addressed the Judge as Your Honour. He was in charge of the trial and made rulings based on the law. 12.
As the court in Newcastle is a first-? tier centre, High Court judges hear civil and criminal cases, while circuit judges and recorders hear only criminal cases. 13 Court Reporter sat at a slightly raised platform under the Judge. 14 She didn’t wear anything special like a robe or wig but only formal clothing. During the whole trial session, she kept on typing and typing. It appeared to us that she was making word-? for-? word records of the court proceedings. 15 Court Clerk also only wore formal clothes, no robes or wigs. She sat in front of 11 Judicial Office (2013) accessed 16 November 2013 12 Judicial Office (2013) accessed.
17 November 2013 13 Gary Slapper, David Kelly, The English Legal System (9th edn, OUP 1994) 172 14 Citizens Information (16 March 2009) accessed 17 November 2013 15 National Career Service (2012) accessed 16 November 2013 4 the Probation Officer, her role was to control the proceedings of the court. 16 During our visit, it was almost the time for the court to begin but the defendant was not in the court getting ready, she went out and called for the defendant. Probation Officer, like the Court Reporter and Court Clerk only wore formal clothing. He sat at the side of the courtroom. He just sat there and kept silent during the whole trial.
Till the end, the Judge asked the defendants to go to the Probation Officer for interview and found out the offence he/she committed. He would then be able to write a report which could help the Judge in deciding the best sentencing. 17 There were two roles for the lawyers to sit. At the first role there sat the Barrister, he wore a black robe and a wig. The Solicitor sat behind and wore only formal clothing. During the court proceedings, only the Barrister did the talking, the Solicitor sat behind would only provide any important information to the Barrister. Barristers were being addressed as Mr. X or Ms.
X during the proceedings. Defendants were held in the defendant dock. They have to keep silence during the whole trial, unless the Judge asked them anything. They had to stand up when the Judge talked to them, other times they were able to sit. Dock officer was with the defendant the whole time. He stood beside the defendant, kept the defendant safe and secure during the process of the trial. 18 Newspaper reporter sat at the area labelled “PRESS”. They were able to make notes but not take photos during the whole court proceedings, after that they may be able to report what was happening in the courtroom. The 16 UKCLE (2000-? 2010) accessed 17.
November 2013 17 Judicial Office (2013) accessed 17 November 2013 18 Judicial Office (2013) accessed 17 November 2013 5 Public ,which is us. We were able to participate in the hearing but we should not make any sounds during the hearing, we were not able to take notes or photos. We should not communicate with the defendant(s) even though we were friends/relatives with them. We also went to the County Court in Sunderland. We saw the Circuit Judge, Court Clerk, Usher, Defendant, Claimant, Barristers, Solicitors.
The Judge wore a robe with a lilac tippet, he did not wear a wig or bands, wing collar or collarette. 19 He was also being addressed as “Your Honour”. He was in charge of the court proceedings. The Court Clerk sat in front of the Judge’s bench. He kept the record about the proceedings, such that he asked us to rise when the Judge entered the courtroom. He said “Court, rise”, we then had to comply with what he said and bow. The Usher made sure that all parties were present, brought them into the court and looked after everyone. 20 He sat at the back of the courtroom. Unlike criminal cases that the Defendant has to sit at the defendant dock, he just had to sit at the rows allocated for the parties.
As both the Defendant and the Claimant chose to have legal representation, they sat behind the front row, allowing their respective Barristers to talk. They sat with their Solicitors. Barristers wore only a robe which was different from what we saw in the Crown Court of Newcastle. Solicitors in both the County and Crown Court had the same dress code, which is business suits. 19 Judicial Office (2013) accessed 21 November 2013 20 Judicial Office (2013) accessed 21 November 2013 6 7 Bibliography 1) G Slapper and D Kelly, The English Legal System (12th edn, Routledge 2011) 2) J Holland and J Webb, Learning Legal Rules (7th edn, OUP 2010) 3) S. H. Bailey, J. P. L Ching and N. W.
Taylor The Modern English Legal System (5th edn, Sweet & Maxwell 2007) 4) T Ingman, The English Legal Process (12th edn, OUP 2008) 5) Judicial Office (2013) accessed 21 November 2013 6) Judicial Office (2013) accessed 21 November 2013 7) Citizens Information (16 March 2009) accessed 17 November 2013 8) Judicial Office (2013) accessed 16 November 2013 9) Judicial Office (2013) accessed 17 November 2013 8 10)National Career Service (2012) accessed 16 November 2013 11)Oxford University Press (2013) accessed on 22 November 2013 12)UKCLE (2000-? 2010) accessed 17 November 2013 Table of Statute 1) Civil Procedure Rule 2) Constitutional Reform Act 2005 9.