Courts of Northern Ireland

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This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
Northern Ireland

The courts of Northern Ireland are the civil and criminal courts responsible for the administration of justice in Northern Ireland: they are constituted and governed by Northern Ireland law.

The United Kingdom does not have a single unified judicial system — England and Wales have one system, Scotland another, and Northern Ireland a third. There are exceptions to this rule, for example in immigration law, the jurisdiction of the First Tier Tribunal (Immigration & Asylum Chamber) and the Upper Tribunal covers the whole of the United Kingdom, while in employment law there is a single system of Employment Tribunals for England and Wales and Scotland (but not Northern Ireland). Additionally, the Military Court Service has jurisdiction over all members of the armed forces of the United Kingdom in relation to offences against military law.

To overcome problems resulting from the intimidation of jurors and witnesses, the right to a jury trial in Northern Ireland was suspended for certain terrorist offences in 1972, and the so-called "Diplock courts" were introduced to try people charged with paramilitary activities. Diplock courts are common in Northern Ireland for crimes connected to terrorism.[1]

Administration of the courts is the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service.

Supreme Court of the United Kingdom

The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom was created by the Constitutional Reform Act 2005. It took its duties up on 1 October 2009. It is the highest court of appeal in Northern Ireland, hearing ultimate appeals from all the courts of the United Kingdom, other than Scottish criminal cases.

The Supreme Court has taken over the appellate jurisdiction formerly vested in the House of Lords.

Court of Judicature

The Court of Judicature of Northern Ireland is constituted by the Judicature (Northern Ireland) Act 1978. Until 1 October 2009 its name was the Supreme Court of Judicature. The Court of Judicature is the most important superior court of Northern Ireland. It consists of the following courts:[2]

  • The Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland (Court of Appeal, formally "Her Majesty’s Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland"[3])
  • The High Court of Justice in Northern Ireland (High Court, formally "Her Majesty's High Court of Justice in Northern Ireland"[4])
  • The Crown Court

The title of the court was changed[5] on 1 October 2009 when the relevant provisions of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 came into force establishing the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.

Court of Appeal

The Court of Appeal is the highest court specifically of Northern Ireland. Appeal from the Court of Appeal lies to the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. The Court of Appeal hears appeals from the Crown Court, High Court, county courts, courts of summary jurisdiction and tribunals.

High Court

The High Court of Justice (High Court) is, like its English equivalent, split into three divisions: Queen's Bench Division, Family Division and Chancery Division. The High Court is located in the Royal Courts of Justice, Belfast.

Crown Court

The Crown Courts hear more serious criminal cases. These are indictable offences and "either way" offences which are committed for trial in the Crown Courts rather than the magistrates' courts.

County Court

Downpatrick Courthouse, August 2009

The County Courts are the main civil courts. While higher-value cases are heard in the High Court, the County Courts hear a wide range of civil actions, consumer claims, and appeals from magistrates' courts. The County Courts are called Family Care Centres when hearing proceedings brought under the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 and appeals from the family proceedings courts. There are seven County Court divisions in Northern Ireland.

Subordinate courts

Below the High Court are several classes of courts. Magistrates' courts (including youth courts, family proceedings courts and domestic proceedings courts) hear less-serious criminal cases and conduct preliminary hearings in more serious criminal cases. They are divided into 21 petty sessions districts. The Crown Court hears all serious criminal cases which are committed to trial. When sitting as family proceedings courts the magistrates' courts hear proceedings brought under the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995.

Additionally, there is the Enforcement of Judgments Office, and coroners' courts, which investigate the circumstances of sudden, violent or unnatural deaths.

See also


  1. "Two jailed for life for killing policeman Stephen Carroll". ITV News. 30 March 2012. They were tried in a 'diplock court' by a judge with no jury; common in Northern Ireland for crimes connected to terrorism.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Section 1, Judicature (Northern Ireland) Act 1978
  3. Interpretation Act 1978 sch. 1
  4. Interpretation Act 1978 sch. 1
  5. Subsection 59(2) of The Constitutional Reform Act 2005

External links