Definitions

High Court of Justice

High Court of Justice

For the Cameroonian court by this name, see High Court of Justice (Cameroon), for the Israeli court of this name, see Supreme Court of Israel. The Court of First Instance of Hong Kong was also known as the High Court of Justice before 1997.
The High Court of Justice (usually known more simply as the High Court) is, together with the Crown Court and the Court of Appeal, part of the Supreme Court of England and Wales (which under the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, is to be known as the Senior Courts of England and Wales). It is also known as the High Court of England and Wales and abbreviated by EWHC.

It deals at first instance with all the most high value and high importance cases, and also has a supervisory jurisdiction over all subordinate courts and tribunals. Appeal from the High Court in civil matters lies to the Court of Appeal and thence to the House of Lords, except when the High Court is sitting as a Prize Court when appeal lies to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

The High Court is based at the Royal Courts of Justice on The Strand, in central London. However, it also sits as 'District Registries' all across England and Wales and virtually all proceedings in the High Court may be issued and heard at a district registry. It is headed by the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales. By convention, all of its male judges are made Knights Bachelor, while all of its female ones are made Dames Commander of the British Empire.

The High Court is split into three main divisions: the Queen's Bench Division, the Chancery Division and the Family Division. The Supreme Court Costs Office is the part of the High Court that deals with legal costs and falls outside these divisions.

Most proceedings in the High Court are held before a single judge, but certain kinds of proceedings, especially in the Queen's Bench Division, are assigned to a Divisional Court (i.e. a bench of two or more judges).

Queen's Bench Division

The Queen's Bench Division — or King's Bench Division when the monarch is a King — has two roles. It hears a wide range of contract law and personal injury/general negligence cases, but also has special responsibility as a supervisory court. Until 2005, the head of the QBD was the Lord Chief Justice (currently Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers). A new post of President of the Queen's Bench Division was created under the provisions of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, leaving the Lord Chief Justice as President of the Courts of England and Wales, Head of the Judiciary of England and Wales and Head of Criminal Justice. Sir Igor Judge became the first person to hold this office in October 2005.

Queen's Bench Division judges sit in the Crown Court, hearing criminal cases (as do Circuit judges and Recorders). In addition, the Divisional Court of the Division hears appeals on points of law from magistrates' courts and from Crown courts which have heard appeals from magistrates' courts. These are known as Appeals by way of Case Stated.

On behalf of the monarch, the Queen's Bench Division oversees all lesser courts and all government authority. Generally, unless other appeal processes are laid down in law, anyone who wants to challenge any decision of a lesser court, tribunal, government authority or state authority brings a claim for judicial review in the Administrative Court, a sub-division of the Queen's Bench Division. A single judge first decides whether the matter is fit to bring to the court (to weed out frivolous or unwinnable cases) and if so the matter is allowed to go forward to a full judicial review hearing with one or more judges.

Appeals from the High Court in civil matters lie to the Court of Appeal (Civil Division); in criminal matters appeal from the Divisional Court lies only to the House of Lords.

Sub-divisions of the Queen's Bench Division include the Technology and Construction Court, Commercial Court, the Admiralty Court and the Administrative Court.

Chancery Division

The Chancery Division deals with business law, trusts law, probate law, and land law in relation to issues of equity. In addition it has specialist courts (the Patents Court and the Companies Court) within it which deal with intellectual property and company law matters respectively. All tax appeals are assigned to the Chancery Division. The head of the Chancery Division was known as the Vice-Chancellor until October 2005. The title was changed under the provisions of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 to Chancellor of the High Court. The first Chancellor (and the last Vice-Chancellor) is Sir Andrew Morritt. One may read reported cases heard before the Chancery Division in the Chancery Division law reports.

Family Division

The Family Division deals with matters such as divorce, children, probate and medical treatment. Its decisions may concern life and death and are perhaps inevitably regarded as controversial. For example, it permitted a hospital to separate conjoined twins without the parents' consent; and allowed one woman to have her life support machines turned off, while not permitting a husband to give his severely disabled wife a lethal injection with her consent. The High Court Family Division has jurisdiction to hear all cases relating to children's welfare and interest, and exercises an exclusive jurisdiction in wardship cases. The head of the Family Division is the President of the Family Division Sir Mark Potter. High Court Judges of the Family Division sit at the Royal Courts of Justice, Strand, London, while District Judges of the Family Division sit at First Avenue House, Holborn, London.

The Family Division is comparatively modern, having been formed by the Judicature Acts by combining the Admiralty Court and probate courts into the then Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division of the High Court, or Wills, Wrecks and Wives as it was informally called. It was renamed the Family Division when the admiralty and probate courts were transferred to other divisions.

Judges

The judges in the High Court are known formally as Justices of Her Majesty's High Court of Justice and informally as High Court judges, and are styled formally and in judicial matters The Hon. Mr(s) Justice (Forename) Surname. (The first judge with a particular surname is called, e.g., "Mr Justice Smith", and all subsequent judges with that surname are distinguished as "Mr Justice John Smith", "Mr Justice Robert Smith", etc., and female judges are called, e.g., "Mrs Justice Jones" regardless of marital status.) Socially they are known simply by the knighthood or damehood they acquire on appointment, without the prefix "The Hon.".

See also List of High Court Judges of England and Wales.

Circuits

Historically, the source of all justice in England was the monarch. All judges sit in judgement on her behalf (hence why they have the royal coat of arms behind them) and criminal prosecutions made by the state are generally made on her behalf. Historically, local lords were permitted to administer justice in Manorial Courts and other ways. Inevitably, the justice administered was patchy and appeals were made direct to the King. The King's travelling representatives (whose primary purpose was tax collection) acted on behalf of the king to make the administration of justice more even. The tradition of judges travelling in set areas of the country or 'circuits' remains to this day, where they hear cases in the district registries of the High Court.

Notes and references

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