The two main courts dealing with civil cases in England and Wales are the County Court and the High Court. The County Court deals with minor civil matters, while the High Court deals with large or complex civil disputes.
The County Court is a first instance court, ie a court where legal proceedings begin, that deals with minor civil matters in a wide range of areas such as:
- landlord and tenant disputes, eg eviction, rent arrears, repairs
- consumer disputes, eg as faulty goods
- personal injury claims where the amount demanded is under £50,000
- money claims under £15,000
- trusts, mortgages, real property claims
- debt problems, eg a creditor seeking payment
- employment issues
The High Court hears more complex civil cases. It is divided into three divisions:
- Family Division: deals with complex family matters such as cases related to minors, defended divorce, wardship, adoption.
- Chancery Division: deals with contested wills, administration of estate, appointment of guardians, trusts, deeds, land and mortgages actions, company law, bankruptcy, intellectual property matters.
- Queen’s Bench Division (QBD): deals with large or complex claims for compensation, including defamation and breach of contract. The QBD is divided into specialised courts: the Commercial Court (for bankruptcy and insurance matters), the Admiralty Court (for shipping-related matters), the Administrative Court (for judicial review of decisions made by government bodies) and the Technology and Construction Court (for computer and engineering-related matters).
Alongside the county courts and the High Court, a Tribunal system handles a wide variety of day-to-day legal issues, such as immigration, asylum or employment. Civil proceedings in tribunals are relatively informal and legal representation by a lawyer is usually not needed. Tribunals operate under a two-tier system:
- First-tier tribunal: hears appeals from citizens against decisions made by government departments
- Upper Tribunal: reviews and decides appeals coming from the First-tier tribunal
Court of Appeal
The Civil Division of the Court of Appeal hears appeals against decisions of the county courts and High Court. You usually have 21 days to appeal against the original decision if you believe that decision was wrong or unfair (for instance, if there was a serious mistake in the ruling or if the court didn’t follow the right procedural steps).
Decisions of the Court of Appeal are taken by a majority. The Court may decide they agree with all or part of your appeal, but they can also dismiss it or order a retrial.
The Supreme Court is the most senior court in the UK. It is the final court of appeal for all UK civil cases. It hears appeals against decisions of the Court of Appeal, and in some limited cases, against decisions of the High Court (when the latter have been taken following an appeal).
The Supreme Court hears appeals on arguable points of law of general public importance. Decisions are taken by a majority.