By: Simon B
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The civil courts
If you want to make a case against someone and you want to claim compensation for poor Garage work on your car or for personal injury, as an example it is then considered a civil case. Individuals, companies, and public organisations can take civil cases, which are usually heard by a circuit or a district judge without a jury. Most cases are dealt with by the County Courts, but some cases are handled by Magistrates in the Magistrates Courts. The more complex cases go to the High Court.
The operations of the civil courts are as follows:
Magistrates Courts deal with arrears of council tax, income tax, and VAT, which are not criminal offences. The Family Proceedings Courts, which are part of the Magistrates Courts, deal with family matters, such as maintenance payments, adoptions, and care proceedings and orders to get a spouse out of the family home.
County Courts deal with the majority of civil cases, such as disputes between landlord and tenant (see Chapter 3), faulty goods and services, personal injuries, domestic violence, debt, discrimination, and some employment cases. If the county court has divorce jurisdiction, it can deal with undefended divorce cases. If you want to claim a sum of money from someone and it’s under £5,000, you can use the Small Claims Track at the County Court. Sheriffs Courts in Scotland are roughly the equivalent of County Courts and deal with both civil and criminal matters.
High Courts have three divisions. The Family Division deals with family issues, such as defended divorces, adoption, and domestic violence. The Queen’s Bench Division deals with large claims for compensation, libel, and slander. The Chancery Division deals with wills, trusts, bankruptcy, and winding up companies.
Some cases, such as domestic violence, can be dealt with by more than one court. The Magistrates Court can give an order to get a spouse out of the family home, but the County and High courts also deal with domestic violence. You do need to take legal advice about which court to start a case in and under which laws you should take your case.
The Court of Appeal Civil Division deals with appeals against decisions made in civil cases in the High Court, County Court, and Employment Appeal Tribunals. The House of Lords handles appeals from the Court of Appeal and sometimes from the High Court.
The system in Scotland is very different. The Sheriff’s court can deal with civil as well as criminal cases. The Court of Session is the equivalent of the High Court in the rest of the UK. Its Outer House hears the less complicated cases, while the Inner House deals with the more complex cases and appeals from Outer House cases. The House of Lords appeals from the Court of Session.
In Northern Ireland, the system is very similar to that in England and Wales. The County Courts are presided over by County Court judges or recorders and deal with the vast majority of civil cases. They also deal with appeals from the Magistrates Courts. The High Court handles all divorces.