Parliamentary institution and one of the main sources of English law

A court is a Parliamentary institution and one of the main sources of English law which has the authority to resolve legal disputes between parties and carry out justice in both civil and criminal divisions in accordance with the rule of law. The courts have a function that gives the public the chance to bring their claims before a court and those accused of a crime have the right to present a defense before a court. The courts is part of the law making process and it is clear that the judges make law in two ways by interpreting and applying the law and by developing the common law which forms parts of the judiciary.

On the purpose of my court observation I visited two courts. Firstly, On Tuesday 26th of October the Supreme Court in Parliament Square. The Supreme Court is the last court of appeal for both civil and criminal cases from England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. The court hears appeals on arguable points of law of the general public and is bound by its own decisions. The Supreme Court was established by the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 and now undertakes the work previously carried out by the House of Lords. These changes took place in order to emphasise the separation of powers in our constitution, and for more independence between the senior judges from the United Kingdom’s law makers. However, the previous decisions of House of Lords are still binding on future courts even after being abolished. It’s also important to note that the Supreme Court’s first Justices were former Lords of appeal and members of the House of Lords.

Outside of the entrance was a commemorative poem by a former poet Sir Andrew Motion, curved into stone seats. There was also a sign near the entrance doors stating the Privy Council. The courthouse is the home to both the Supreme Court and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council is the highest court of appeal in the United Kingdom’s overseas territories and crown dependencies, and in other independent commonwealth countries. The Privy Council was established by the Judicial Committee Act 1833 and on the 1st of October 2009, the Judicial Committee moved from the Privy Council Chamber in Downing Street to the newly renovated building. Court room three is now used for Privy Council sittings. Furthermore, the Justices of the Supreme Court also sit as the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

Once in the courthouse, you go through strict security checks before entering the glass panelled doors, emblazoned with the Supreme Court’s emblem and phrases from the judicial Oath. The doors then lead me to the reception whereby a man behind a desk gave me information on current court sittings. He informed of a case judgement that was starting at 10:00am and of another at 10:30am and then handed me booklets on both the cases.

The case judgement took place in court room two for the appeal case of; Cadder (Appellant) v Her Majesty’s Advocate (Respondent) (Scotland)[1]. The judges present were; Lord Hope, Deputy President, and six other judges and behind the Justices sat the qualified barristers who work for the judiciary for a year and are referred to as the advocates purely because of the work they undertake. The entrance to the court room was surrounded by a glass screen etched with words: ‘justice cannot be for one side alone but be for both.’ On top of the courtroom on the wall was a glass sculpture of the Supreme Court emblem. The seats were made of black leather and were very modern in style.

The Appellant was detained by the Scottish police on suspicion of a serious assault. He was told that he was entitled to have a solicitor informed of his detention but he did not pursue that right. However, he was interviewed without a lawyer being present and convicted. The following Acts were looked into in regards to the appeal; Section 14 and 15 of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995. The question arose if it is a breach of the rights to a fair a trial recognised in Article 6(1) and 6(3) (c) of the European Convection of Human Rights.

In relation to the case the following cases were referred to in order to reach a judgement of the appeal; Salduz v Turkey (2008) 49 EHRR 421 [2] and Her Majesty’s Advocate v Mclean [2009] HCJAC 97 [3]. The Supreme Court issued its ruling for the appeal rejecting the practice in which the Scottish police of being able to question suspects without a solicitor present as it is a violation of Human Rights laws.

The next case was allocated in court room one. The appeal case in precedence was; Karen Sienkiewicz (Administration of the Estate of Enid Costello Deceased) v Greif (UK) Limited (Appellant)[4]. The facts of the case were; the respondent, the daughter of the deceased Enid Castello died of mesothelioma. The deceased worked for the appellant’s factory between 1966 till 1984 and during the course asbestos was released into the factory atmosphere. The appellant admitted its use of the substance but denied the breach of a duty of care to the employees.

The issue of the case was; ‘whether Fairchild[5] exception to the ordinary principles of causation applies where medical science permits a claimant to prove on the balance of probabilities that her mesothelioma was the result of a particular employment, and whether section 3 of the Compensation Act 2006 alters the common law position on causation of mesothelioma cases,’ as stated in information sheet provided by the Supreme Court.

Furthermore, the there was another case associated in the proceedings. The case of Knowsley Metropolitan borough council (appellant) v Wilmore (respondent)[6]. The case information was unable to be obtained.

In the court room, it consisted of wooden seats which looked old and seemed more traditional compared to the previous courtroom. The court clerk recited the words ‘all rise’ as the twelve Justices entered the courtroom and sat around a large table. The court clerk has the role of maintaining the court records and administrating oaths and jurors. The courtroom contained portraits on the walls and bookshelves with a few books. On the windows were crests in relation to the buildings history presumably the Middlesex coat of arms. There was a role of qualified barristers behind the Justices also referred to as the counsel. In front of the Justices sat six barristers who have the role of representing their clients cases and giving their specialist legal advice. In support of the barristers behind them sat five lawyers who help the barristers and the clients but may have hired the barrister in relation to the case. The barristers were wearing a rope and a wig whereas the lawyers and the Justices were formally dressed. Above the courtroom was another room not sure what for what purpose.

The barrister began by reciting the purpose and previous case summary of the judgement of the case. The Judges then began questioning the causation of the case further on in the proceedings. There were questions in regards to the material of the case and the principle approach of the causation. The case was resorted to be continued.

The second visit was on Monday 13th of December to the Magistrates’ Court in Stratford. The Magistrates’ Courts is a court of first instance. The court revolves around minor criminal offences. However, the courts also have a civil jurisdiction over tax arrears, welfare of children and some matrimonial matters.

The differences between these courts are; criminal courts deal with wrongs against the society whereas a civil court deals with individual wrongs. The standards of proof for civil cases are decided by the balance of probabilities and criminal cases by beyond reasonable doubts. In civil cases the remedies are different to criminal cases as you’re awarded damages, injunction or you a make a declaration and there are special remedies for contract law. In criminal law the remedies consists of a prison sentence, community service, fine, discharge or compensation paid to the victim. All criminal cases begin in the Magistrates’ Court and then automatically go on to Crown Court for trial by jury whereas others finish in the Magistrates’ Court. But importantly the Magistrates’ Court is bound by decisions of superior courts and its decisions are not binding not even to courts of the same hierarchy.

I arrived at the courthouse at 10:30 am and went through security checks however; the security was very unreliable and not as strict as the Supreme Court. The receptionist informed me that only court rooms one to six was available for public viewing. There were signs leading to a youth court. The Magistrates’ Court deals with young people who have committed criminal offences and up to three trained Magistrates hear these cases. The youth court was unable to be viewed as case sittings in that area as it was not available for public viewing.

In court room one there were two doors one to enter the courtroom and the other for the public gallery. The public gallery was a box made out of thick glass and was facing towards the Magistrates at the back of the courtroom. There were two Magistrates also known as lay Magistrates. The Magistrates on the right hand side was making comments regarding the defendant presumably the Chief Magistrates. Magistrates are not legally trained and are dependent on Legal Advisors on legal matters compared to a district judge.

In front of the Magistrates sat one Legal Advisor on the phone setting a trial date for the defendant. The Professional Legal Advisor or clerk to the Justices assists the Magistrates, the bench on points of law and ensure that procedures are properly followed by the bench.

The defendant was in the defendant box on the right hand side of the courtroom with two police officers beside him. The case was not noted as the case sitting was on the verge of finishing. The defendant was on trial for possession of drugs and for assaulting a police officer under section 86 of Police Act 1996. The defendant pleaded guilty for both charges.

In the middle of the court room was the prosecution barrister and the defence for the defendant and behind them sat three solicitors who help the barristers in relation to cases. When the court date had been set for the defendant the case proceedings moved on to the next case.

In court room two however, the structure of the court room was completely different comparison. The public gallery was located in the same place however; it was not in a box.

In front was a district judge who usually hears cases alone and is legally qualified. A Legal Advisor was present in front followed by the prosecution and defence barristers. The case name was not noted as the court usher did not recite the case name clearly only to the district judge.

The defendant was on the left hand side of the courtroom in the defendant’s box. On the right hand side was the witness stand. The defendant was on trial for urinating in a public place. The defendant however, pleaded not guilty for the offence. The trial was concluded to be continued in a later date.

The courts are different in comparison from the structure of the buildings, the people involved to the way the proceedings occur. The Supreme Court is traditional and seems more formal. The Magistrates’ court is subordinate and mostly consists of lay judges sitting in minor cases whereas the Supreme Court is about more in depth with high profile cases.

The outcome of the observation is that the judiciary plays a major involvement in the formation of the English law. The different divisions’ outsets the way cases are dealt with and the places the cases are heard and previous court decisions can influence the judgement which can lead to the appropriate remedy of a case.


[1] Cadder v HM Advocate [2010] UKSC 43

[2] Salduz v Turkey (2008) 49 EHRR 421

[3] Her Majesty’s Advocate v Mclean [2009] HCJAC 97

[4] Karen Sienkiewicz (administration of the estate of Enid Costello, deceased) v Greif (UK) Limited [2009] EWCA Civ 1159

[5] Fairchild v Glenhaven Funeral Services Ltd [2002] UKHL 22

[6] Willmore v Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council - [2009] All ER (D) 209 (Nov)

Willmore v Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council - [2009] EWCA Civ 1211