The Court is divided into two Divisions: the Civil Division and the Criminal Division. The Master of the Rolls presides over the Civil Division, while the Lord Chief Justice does the same in the Criminal Division. The other permanent judges of the Court of Appeal are known as Lords Justices of Appeal. The court hears appeals from the High Court and, in criminal matters, the Crown Court, although there are rights of appeal to it from other courts and tribunals. Permission to appeal may be required from the court below or from the Court of Appeal itself.
Three judges, sitting as a panel, normally hear an appeal in the Court of Appeal, reaching a decision by a majority. A single Lord Justice of Appeal may hear applications for permission to appeal.
Because the volume of cases which come to the Court of Appeal is higher than come to the House of Lords it has been said that the Master of the Rolls is the most influential judge in England. Certainly, the most famous judge in recent legal history, Lord Denning, was Master of the Rolls for many years, and played a major part in the development of the common law.
See List of Lords Justices of Appeal for the current members of the Court.
The Civil Division of the Court of Appeal was created by the Judicature Acts in 1875 as the Court of Appeal (criminal appeals being dealt with by the Court for Crown Cases Reserved). It merged the Court of Appeal in Chancery, a common law court of error (popularly known as a "court of appeal") and the appellate jurisdiction of the Privy Council in admiralty and ecclesiastical matters.
Appeal from a decision of the Civil Division may be made to the House of Lords with permission of either court.
However, it had a residual discretion ("the proviso") to dismiss the appeal if it considered no miscarriage of justice had occurred. Following the Criminal Appeal Act 1995, the sole ground for allowing an appeal is that the conviction is "unsafe." The previously separate heads of legal error and material irregularity have been subsumed into this overarching test, as has the 'proviso.'
The court of appeal has wide powers of calling witnesses and evidence, including witnesses who were called at the original trial.
Many other countries have an automatic right of appeal, which addresses the possibility that a jury may have come to a mistaken verdict. There is no such right in England and Wales.
In 1907, the Court of Criminal Appeal was created to replace the Court for Crown Cases Reserved, consisting of the Lord Chief Justice and the judges of the King's Bench Division of the High Court. At this time a defendant was given the right of appeal. In 1966 the Court of Criminal Appeal became the current Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal.
The certification of a question of general public importance does not necessarily mean that either court will give permission to appeal. For example, in R v Goodwin (on the question of whether a powered water craft is a ship), the Court of Appeal certified a number of questions but neither it nor the House of Lords gave permission to appeal.