HM Courts & Tribunal Service (HMCTS) is responsible for the administration of the criminal, civil and family courts in England and Wales, tribunals in England, and non-devolved tribunals in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
HMCTS is an executive agency, sponsored by the Ministry of Justice (MOJ). The Ministry of Justice publishes the official statistics relating to the operation of the criminal and civil justice systems, including courts and tribunals. These are published on a quarterly basis and are the best, most comprehensive figures on this topic for most purposes.
Courts data overview
Magistrates' courts trials
At December 2019 (source).
Crown court trials
At December 2019 (source).
Tribunals receipts overview
At March 2019 (source).
Virtually all criminal court cases in England and Wales start in a magistrates’ court. The less serious offences (summary and some triable either-way) are handled entirely in magistrates’ courts.
More serious offences (triable either-way or indictable only) are passed via the magistrates’ court on to the Crown Court, either for sentencing after the defendant has been found guilty or for a trial with a judge and jury. The Crown Court also receives appeals against decisions of the magistrates’ courts.
The magistrates’ court is the first tier of criminal courts in England and Wales and is presided over by three ‘Justices of the Peace’ (known as lay magistrates) or by a district judge.
The Crown Court is a single entity that sits at various court centres across England and Wales, it predominately deals with serious criminal cases. Unlike the magistrates’ court, trials in the Crown Court have a jury to determine the guilt of defendants and a judge which can impose tougher sentences.
Civil cases are those that do not involve family matters or failure to pay council tax. Civil cases are mainly dealt with by county courts and typically relate to debt (these generally being issued for a specified amount of money), the repossession of property, personal injury (these generally being issued for an unspecified amount of money), the return of goods and insolvency. Particularly important, complex or substantial cases are instead dealt with in the High Court.
Family law is the area of law that deals with:
- Public law – local authority intervention to protect children;
- Private law – parental disputes concerning the upbringing of children;
- Matrimonial cases – divorces, annulments and separations;
- Financial Remedy (formerly known as ‘ancillary relief’) – financial provisions after divorce or relationship breakdown;
- Domestic violence remedy orders;
- Forced marriage protection orders;
- Female genital mutilation protection orders;
- The Mental Capacity Act; and
Tribunals are specialist judicial bodies which decide disputes in particular areas of law. Appeals to tribunals are generally against a decision made by a Government department or agency. The main exception to this is the Employment Tribunal where cases are on a party v party basis (specifically, employee versus employer). There are tribunals in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland covering a wide range of areas affecting day-to-day life. Her Majesty’s Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) administers many of them although some are the responsibility of the devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.