A court sitting with more than one judge is a divisional court. I am having difficulty seeing the relevance of the term to its definition.

2 Answers 2


High Court cases are usually heard by a single judge, but in some instances (see s 66(1) below) more than one judge is required. When this happens, it's called a divisional court.

See Section 66 Senior Courts Act 1981, which states that:

Divisional courts of High Court.

(1) Divisional courts may be held for the transaction of any business in the High Court which is, by or by virtue of rules of court or any other statutory provision, required to be heard by a divisional court.

(2) Any number of divisional courts may sit at the same time.

(3) A divisional court shall be constituted of not less than two judges.

(4) Every judge of the High Court shall be qualified to sit in any divisional court.

(5) The judge who is, according to the order of precedence under this Act, the senior of the judges constituting a divisional court shall be the president of the court.

The term "Divisional" stems from the way the Senior Courts (apart from the Crown Court) are structured - i.e. divided - to deal with different areas of law.

The High Court is divided in to three divisions:

And the Court of Appeal has two Divisions:


Divisional Courts were introduced by the Judicature Act 1873: Winder, Divisional Court precedents (1946) 9 Modern Law Review 257, 258. The Act merged the three common law courts (Common Pleas, Exchequer and Queen's Bench), and the courts of equity, into a single High Court of Justice. In contrast to the common law position, section 39 of the Act provided that the High Court could be constituted by a single judge. Section 40 of the Act then provided:

Such causes and matters as are not proper to be heard by a single Judge shall be heard by Divisional Courts of the said High Court of Justice … Any number of such Divisional Courts may sit at the same time. A Divisional Court of the said High Court of Justice shall be constituted by two or three, and no more, of the Judges thereof …

Section 41 assigns to a Divisional Court the matters previously decided by the common law courts sitting "in banc," while sections 43 and 44 extend the concept of the Divisional Court to the new equitable Divisions. This implemented the recommendations of the Judicature Commission, First report of the Commissioners (1869), p 10:

Each division of the Court of Chancery is presided over by a single Judge … On the other hand, in the Sittings of the Courts of Common Law in Banc, the Court is ordinarily constituted of four Judges … having regard to … the importance of avoiding any too violent transition from the modes of conducting judicial business to which the public have been accustomed … we think it will be advisable to authorize a single Judge to exercise the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court … and that all matters now disposed of in banco in [the common law] Courts shall be heard and determined by not more than three Judges. We also think that the Judges of each Division or Chamber in which there are several Judges should have power to sit in banco in two sub-divisions at the same time, with the assistance, when ever necessary, of a Judge or Judges from any other Division of the Court.

The concept of a Divisional Court also appeared in section 53 of the Act, although the Court of Appeal was at this time not divided into a permanent Criminal and Civil Division:

Every appeal to the Court of Appeal shall be heard or determined either by the whole Court or by a Divisional Court consisting of any number, not less than three, of the Judges thereof. Any number of such Divisional Courts may sit at the same time.

The term "divisional court," then, was introduced to describe a panel of judges who, in contrast to a common law court sitting en banc, formed less than the "whole" court. This allowed the new courts to deal with multiple cases at the same time and make better use of the expertise of individual judges.

At first, the adjective "divisional" referred to an ad hoc panel of judges constituting either the High Court or the Court of Appeal. Once the exercise of appellate jurisdiction by a Divisional Court of the Court of Appeal became routine, it came to refer specifically to the High Court, in which single judge decisions are the norm.

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