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Judges and the law
Judges and the law

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3.2 The hierarchy of the courts

A court hierarchy establishes which decisions are binding on which courts. There are some exceptions and complications to what follows but, in general and for most purposes, the higher up a court is in the hierarchy, the more authoritative its decisions. I mean ‘authoritative’ in the sense that decisions of the higher courts will bind lower courts to apply the same decided principle.

Activity 5 asks you to explore the court structure further.

Activity 5 The court structure in England and Wales

Timing: 0 hours 20 minutes

It will be helpful to examine a diagram of the court structure for England and Wales.

  1. HM courts service [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]

You may find it useful to open this link in a separate window on your browser.

The diagram you will see is presented by the Courts and Tribunals Judiciary, which is the collective name for the judges who sit in the courts in England and Wales. Take a few moments to consider the diagram of the court structure and familiarise yourself with where the different courts stand. There are over 200 magistrates’ courts in England and Wales and thousands of magistrates dealing with a great many cases every day. There are a huge number of these cases (over one million a year) and they do not usually involve any dispute over what the relevant law means, so these cases do not have to be followed by other magistrates’ courts in the system of precedent. By contrast, the UK Supreme Court deals only with about 80 cases a year and its decisions bind all other courts.

You may find it helpful to see if you can find newspaper stories about cases in as many of these courts as you can identify.