The judiciary of England and Wales has advanced over the past thousand years and continues to develop in accordance with changes in society. A key factor of our country’s judiciary is that it is an entirely independent body which is not the case in many other countries. Legend states during the twelfth century, guilty verdicts were often decided by inflicting the accused with pain, and if they were to heal within three days, they would be found to be innocent as God had cured them. Today, an accused is tried by a judge or jury depending on the alleged crime.
In addition to evolving methods of determining one’s guilt, the divisions of the courts have adapted with the times. There are numerous civil, criminal, and appeal courts in place today which grew out of what was known as the Court of Common Pleas in the thirteenth century. During the thirteenth century, many claims were made regarding judicial corruption and bribery. In response to this, judges received increased salaries and were required to swear an oath to be independent.
In England and Wales, there are both judges of the court and tribunal judges. Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service administers a two-tier tribunal system, each encompasses a variety of Chambers. The Tribunal system is designed to hear cases from the public in dispute with the government or its departments such as the Immigration Tribunal hearing cases in conjunction with the Home Office. Tribunal judges decide issues regarding specific areas of law. Tribunal judges may either be salaried or work on a fee-paid basis. Each tribunal is headed by a tribunal president.
Judges of the court hold a variety of standings from being a Recorder to a Lord Chief Justice. A Recorder usually deals with less complex cases and will often sit in the Crown Court, however, may also sit in the County Court. There are two distinctions of district judges, one who hears criminal and youth cases, and limited civil proceedings in the magistrates’ courts. The other form of district judge is one who considers cases in the county courts and deals with a variety of family and civil matters.
A circuit judge may sit in either the Crown or County court and usually remain in the same geographical region. Authorisation can be obtained for circuit judges to hear public and private family law cases and on occasion, the Lord Chief Justice may request a circuit judge to sit in the Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal.
High Court judges deal with more multifaceted civil proceedings and serious criminal cases. A High Court judge sits in either the Queen’s Bench Division, the Family Division, or the Chancery Division. A circuit judge with two years’ experience may become a High Court judge, otherwise, seven years’ experience is required.
In order to become a Court of Appeal judge, one must have an extensive judicial career and be a senior judge. Court of Appeal judges sit in either the Criminal or the Civil division and primarily deal with appeals from the High Court and Crown Court, however, also hear cases from county courts and limited tribunals. Court of Appeal judges include 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 the Lords of Appeal.
The highest court in the United Kingdom is the Supreme Court which is composed of the President, the Deputy President along with ten Justices of the Supreme Court. Only the most important disputes of law are allowed to be appealed to the Supreme Court. In England and Wales, both criminal and civil cases can be appealed to the Supreme Court.