I suppose that a county court is for civil matters for private parties to sue each other for general civil causes of action. A county court further has a small claims procedure/track for cases of an especially small nature (IE less than £10K in England.) A county court may limit costs awards to only the court fees rather than those paid for legal advice by the prevailing party.

A magistrate is the lowest level for trying criminal offences, typically summary criminal charges.

A crown court is superior to a magistrate court in that it is the first instance for trying the more serious category of indictable offences. But a crown court can also be used for more serious civil claims, ie for those that are for higher amounts.

High court is the court of next instance for appealing all of these other courts' decisions. (Both civil and criminal).

After the high court one must then appeal to the supreme court.

Then in parallel to all of these there are the tribunals which I understand to deal in specialised domains (property, housing, immigration) and are designed to be especially less formal so that one needn't necessarily have professional advice or representation to further one's cause in them.

One first goes to a first tier tribunal, then an upper tier tribunal in the respective chamber corresponding to the nature of their matter (housing, immigration, employment, etc.) And then appeals start getting into the court system. High court is the next step from the upper tribunals?

What is strange is that to apply for an injunction of reinstatement or an anti eviction injunction, one would typically go to a county court, but why not a property tribunal as for a rent repayment order?

And then there is the question of all of the different benches within the various courts.

Who fancies clearing all of this stuff up a bit?

  • 2
    "Explain the entire English and Wales court system except the very top bit" is really too unfocused to be a good question, and there seem to be multiple embedded questions here. Try to hone in more specifically on a single question.
    – ohwilleke
    Jun 21, 2022 at 20:37
  • Oh sorry, I thought the invitation to create an on-site once-and-for-all reference would be rather welcomed. Jun 21, 2022 at 22:29
  • 1
    Understandable, but that's Wikipedia. Law.SE is more focused on specifics.
    – ohwilleke
    Jun 21, 2022 at 22:29
  • I guess the main essence of the question is like, "what are the different purposes of the various low level court systems" and then it slowly trails off as it ventures up the appellate chain but I think it would be very fair for an answer to confine itself to just that? Jun 21, 2022 at 22:31

1 Answer 1


Courts are creatures of common law, tribunals are creatures of statute

That isn’t to say that the courts we have today haven’t been reformed by Parliament but they weren’t formed by Parliament. Tribunals were.

The courts represent a judiciary that is independent of oversight from the Parliament or the Crown (i.e. ministers of Her Majesty’s Government). Once a judge is appointed, they are free to make their own decisions in line with precedent and their own conscience, free of either direction or fear of discipline from outside the judiciary. The decisions they make are not decisions of the Government of the day.

Tribunals instead exercise power delegated to them by Parliament in exactly the same way that Ministers of the Crown do. Their decisions are administrative decisions of the Government and are subject to judicial review.

They are not subject to the common law or statutes governing courts but follow the specific rules laid out for them in their enabling legislation. They do not have to follow precedent although most of them do. Their procedures may be similar to a court but they do not have to be; for example, many tribunals are conducted like mediations or make decisions on the documents without witness testimony. They do not have to follow the rules of evidence (unless they do), mostly, they can choose to ignore the hearsay rule.

A court is wrong if it fails to follow the law. A tribunal is wrong if it fails to follow the process set out for it.

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