Bodies that adjudicate (make judgement) in legal disputes. Civil cases (generally non-criminal disputes that affect the interests of an individual) and criminal cases are usually dealt with by separate courts. In many countries there is a hierarchy of courts that provide an appeal system.
In England and Wales the court system was reorganized under the Courts Act 1971. The higher courts are: the House of Lords (the highest court for the whole of Britain), which deals with both civil and criminal appeals; the Court of Appeal, which is divided between criminal and civil appeal courts; the High Court of Justice dealing with important civil cases; crown courts, which handle criminal cases; and county courts, which deal with civil matters. Magistrates' courts deal with minor criminal cases and are served by justices of the peace or stipendiary (paid) magistrates; and juvenile courts are presided over by specially-qualified justices. There are also special courts, such as the Restrictive Practices Court and the Employment Appeal Tribunal.
The courts are organized in six circuits. The towns of each circuit are first-tier (High Court and circuit judges dealing with both criminal and civil cases), second-tier (High Court and circuit judges dealing with criminal cases only), or third-tier (circuit judges dealing with criminal cases only). Cases are allotted according to gravity among High Court and circuit judges and recorders (part-time judges with the same jurisdiction, or legal powers, as circuit judges). In 1971 solicitors were allowed for the first time to appear in and conduct cases at the level of the crown courts, and solicitors as well as barristers of ten years' standing became eligible for appointment as recorders, who after five years become eligible as circuit judges. In the UK in 1989 there were 5,500 barristers and 47,000 solicitors. In Scotland, the supreme civil court is the Court of Session, with appeal to the House of Lords; the highest criminal court is the High Court of Justiciary, with no appeal to the House of Lords.
Law courts, London