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Court of Appeal of England and Wales

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Her Majesty's Court of Appeal is the second most senior court in the English legal system, with only the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords above it.

The Court is divided into two Divisions: the Civil Division and the Criminal Division. The Master of the Rolls presides over the Civil Division, while the Lord Chief Justice does the same in the Criminal Division. The other permanent judges of the Court of Appeal are known as Lords Justices of Appeal. The court hears appeals from the High Court and, in criminal matters, the Crown Court, although there are rights of appeal to it from other courts and tribunals. Permission to appeal may be required from the court below or from the Court of Appeal itself.

Three judges, sitting as a panel, normally hear an appeal in the Court of Appeal, reaching a decision by a majority. A single Lord Justice of Appeal may hear applications for permission to appeal.

Because the volume of cases which come to the Court of Appeal is higher than come to the House of Lords it has been said that the Master of the Rolls is the most influential judge in England. Certainly, the most famous judge in recent legal history, Lord Denning, was Master of the Rolls for many years, and played a major part in the development of the common law.

See List of Lords Justices of Appeal for the current members of the Court.

Civil Division

The Civil Division is presided over by the Master of the Rolls. It hears most civil appeals from decisions of the High Court and many from County Courts, as well as from certain Tribunals (including:

  • Employment Appeal Tribunal
  • Lands Tribunal
  • Asylum and Immigration Tribunal after a decision made by a three member tribunal.)

The Civil Division of the Court of Appeal was created by the Judicature Acts in 1875 as the Court of Appeal (criminal appeals being dealt with by the Court for Crown Cases Reserved). It merged the Court of Appeal in Chancery, a common law court of error (popularly known as a "court of appeal") and the appellate jurisdiction of the Privy Council in admiralty and ecclesiastical matters.

Appeal from a decision of the Civil Division may be made to the House of Lords with permission of either court.

Criminal Division

The Criminal Division is presided over by the Lord Chief Justice and has jurisdiction over the following matters:

  • Appeals by the defendant against conviction or sentence given at a trial on indictment in the Crown Court
  • References by the Attorney-General under Section 36 of the Criminal Justice Act 1972:
    • on a point of law after an acquittal on indictment
    • against unduly lenient sentences
  • Quashing tainted acquittals under Section 54 of the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996
  • Referrals by the Criminal Cases Review Commission of any conviction or sentence of any person tried in the Crown Court

Grounds for Appeal

The court of appeal may allow an appeal for three reasons:[1]

  • the conviction is unsafe or unsatisfactory
  • there was a wrong decision on a question of law
  • a material irregularity in the course of the trial

The court of appeal has wide powers of calling witnesses and evidence, including witnesses who were called at the original trial[2].

Many other countries have an automatic right of appeal, which addresses the possibility that a jury may have come to a mistaken verdict. There is no such right in England and Wales.


The Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal is a successor to the Court for Crown Cases Reserved, which was established in 1848. A trial judge could chose to reserve a case for decision if he thought there was a matter of law which required fuller consideration.

In 1907, the Court of Criminal Appeal was created to replace the Court for Crown Cases Reserved, consisting of the Lord Chief Justice and the judges of the King's Bench Division of the High Court. At this time a defendant was given the right of appeal. In 1966 the Court of Criminal Appeal became the current Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal.

Onward Appeal

Appeals from the Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal may be made to the House of Lords. Such appeals require not only the permission of either court, but the Court of Appeal must also certify a question of general public importance to be decided by the House of Lords. This means that the Court of Appeal can control the cases which are appealed from it.

The certification of a question of general public importance does not necessarily mean that either court will give permission to appeal. For example, in R v Goodwin (on the question of whether a powered water craft is a ship), the Court of Appeal certified a number of questions but neither it nor the House of Lords gave permission to appeal.

External links

  • Criminal Division home page
  • Civil Division home page
  • Conan Doyle and the Parson's son:The George Edaji Case - Cases which led to the setting up of the Court of Appeal
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