In England and Wales, criminal cases are heard before either the Magistrates’ Courts or the Crown Court of England and Wales. Non-criminal cases – referred to as CIVIL cases or matters – are heard by the County Courts or by the High Court or by a TRIBUNAL. In fact, for many forms of civil dispute, it is far more likely that the matter would be resolved by a tribunal. Until recently, there have been numerous tribunals each created by a specific Act of Parliament. Often, each tribunal had its own rules and dealt with matters relating to a particular government department or decision making public agency. This made for a great deal of complexity.
Since November 2008, this system is being rationalised as a result of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007. Basically, there will be two tribunals known as First Tier Tribunal and Upper Tribunal. Gradually, all the existing tribunals are being swept away and their tasks taken into this new structure. The new structure will have its own rules of procedure though it seems that there will be a considerable number of such rules (see here). Complexity seems to be already building itself into this new system.
The First Tier Tribunal divides into Chambers as described here and each Chamber will encompass the roles previously undertaken by a separate tribunal.
Upper Tribunal – divides into Chambers as described here.
See the Tribunals Service website for the progress made so far with this major project.
This is an important legal reform and little is known about it by the general public. I would be particularly interested to hear from any practitioners with experience of how things are going. Is the new system shaping up well and will it meet the objectives of the Leggatt Report?