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Single Parent Guide - Courts and Judges

Single Parent Guide - Courts and Judges

The Courts of England and Wales can be a confusing place for the general public. Here is a list of the different kinds of court, who works there and what goes on in them.

The Magistrates’ Court

All criminal cases start here. The minor (summary) offences are decided here and the more serious (indictable) offences get passed to the Crown Court. A few of the cases heard here will be civil cases but the majority are about family issues (Family Proceedings).

Which judges will I find in a Magistrates’ Court?

  • Magistrates (Lay Magistrates) are local citizens of good character, sound judgement and maturity - they are not legally qualified but will have had training on how to make fair decisions. They tend to hear cases in threes and are often chosen to represent different genders, ages and ethnicity.
  • District Judges (Professional Magistrates) are lawyers employed by the Ministry of Justice to judge cases. Unlike Magistrates, they sit alone to hear cases and tend to deal with the more serious matters.
  • Deputy District Judges (Professional Magistrates) are paid to work a minimum of 15 days a year. They are essentially the same as a District Judge but work less.

The Crown Court

This court will hear all serious cases and some that are ‘triable-either-way’, meaning they could have been heard here or in the Magistrates. This court can also hear appeals on conviction and sentencing from the Magistrates.

Which judges will I find in a Crown Court?

  • Circuit Judges are more senior judges. They visit a number of courts in a particular area (circuit) in order to deal with local cases.
  • Recorders are lawyers who have had 10 or more year’s experience in practising. They work as a judge part time and still practice as a lawyer.
  • The Jury are 12 randomly selected members of the public who represent ‘your peers’. In criminal proceedings the jury will decide the verdict guilty or not guilty. They are specially chosen so that they do not know you, and so they do not have any special expertise or training that might influence their verdict.

The County Court (or Civil Court)

This is where the majority of civil cases are heard. Family cases will be heard by a specialist family circuit judge. They deal with two types of cases: Private disputes involving parents about their children (eg who the children should live with) and public work when the local councils take action to remove children.

Which judges will I find in a County Court?

  • Circuit judges
  • Recorders
  • District Judges
  • Deputy District Judges

The High Court

The High Court deals with all high value and important cases. It has three main divisions: the Queen's Bench Division, the Chancery Division and the Family Division. The work of the Queen's Bench Division consists mainly of claims for damages in respect of personal injuries, negligence etc. The Chancery Division deals with more business and commercial based issues. The Family Division deals with more difficult matters relating to children, divorce, medical treatment and probate.

Which judges will I find in the High Court?

  • High Court Judges are those who sit in the High Court. They represent the third highest level of judge in the courts of England and Wales.

The Court of Appeal

This court only hears appeals. It consists of a criminal and a civil division. The criminal division only hears cases from the Crown Court whereas the civil division hears cases from the High and County Courts.

Which judges will I find in a Court of Appeal?

  • Court of Appeal Judges are mainly the Lords Justices of Appeal and are drawn exclusively from High Court judges. Court of Appeal judges are made up of the Lord Chief Justice, the Master of the Rolls, the President of the Queen's Bench Division, the President of the Family Division, the Chancellor of the High Court and 37 Lord or Lady Justices.

The Supreme Court

This is the highest Court of the land and was formally known as ‘The House of Lords’. The Supreme Court will only hear cases on points of law. They do not hear appeals based upon conviction or sentencing.

Which judges will I find in the Supreme Court?

  • Justices of the Supreme Court are appointed by the Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister, who receives recommendations from a selection commission. There are currently 12 Justices of the Supreme Court and it is likely that a panel of 5 (though this can vary from 3 to sometimes 9) justices will hear the case.

More information

Have you seen the Single Parent's Guide to Who's Who in the Court Room? This article will help you understand what the key players in a court case are there to do.

If your ex has been violent and is taking you to court for contact with the children, read our Single Parent Guide for Being Taken to Court by violent ex.

Family Law Advice can be found at OnlyMums and Childrens Legal Centre

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