Law in Britain comes from two main sources: laws made in Parliament (usually drawn up by government departments and lawyers) and common law, which is based on previous judgments and customs. Just as there is no written constitution, so England and Wales have no criminal code and the interpretation of the law is based on what was happened in the past. The laws which are made in Parliament are interpreted by the courts, but changes in the law itself are made in Parliament.
The common type of law court in England and Wales is the magistrates’ court. There are over 700 magistrates’ courts and about 30 000 magistrates.
Serious criminal cases then go to the Crown Court, which has 90 branches in many towns and cities. Civil cases (for example: divorce or bankruptcy cases) are dealt with in County Courts.
Appeals are heard by higher court. For example, appeals from magistrates’ courts are heard in the Crown Court, unless they are appeals on points of law. The highest court of appeal is the House of Lord. Some cases may be referred to the European Court of Justice in Luxemburg. In addition, individuals have made the British Government change its practices in a number of areas as a result petitions to the European Court of Human Rights.
The law system in Britain also includes juvenile court (which deal with non-adult offenders) and coroners’ courts (which investigate unnatural, sudden or violent deaths).
There are administrative tribunals which make cheap, quick and fair decisions with much less formality. Tribunals deal with professional standards, disputes between individuals, and disputes between individuals and government departments (for example: over taxation).
Criminal law is concerned with wrongful acts harmful to the community.
Civil law is concerned with individuals’ rights, duties and obligations towards one another.
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