Appellate court

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The High Court of Australia, the highest appellate court in Australia High Court of Australia (6769096715).jpg
The High Court of Australia, the highest appellate court in Australia
The Supreme Court of the United States, the highest court in the United States 1 Supreme Court.jpg
The Supreme Court of the United States, the highest court in the United States
The Helsinki Court of Appeal (Helsingin hovioikeus), an intermediate appellate court in Finland Helsingin hovioikeus.jpg
The Helsinki Court of Appeal (Helsingin hovioikeus), an intermediate appellate court in Finland

An appellate court, commonly called a court of appeal(s), [1] appeal court, court of second instance or second instance court, is any court of law that is empowered to hear an appeal of a trial court or other lower tribunal. In much of the world, court systems are divided into at least three levels: the trial court, which initially hears cases and reviews evidence and testimony to determine the facts of the case; at least one intermediate appellate court; and a supreme court (or court of last resort) which primarily reviews the decisions of the intermediate courts, often on a discretionary basis. A particular court system's supreme court is its highest appellate court. [2] Appellate courts nationwide can operate under varying rules. [3]


Under its standard of review, an appellate court decides the extent of the deference it would give to the lower court's decision, based on whether the appeal were one of fact or of law. In reviewing an issue of fact, an appellate court ordinarily gives deference to the trial court's findings. It is the duty of trial judges or juries to find facts, view the evidence firsthand, and observe witness testimony. When reviewing lower decisions on an issue of fact, courts of appeal generally look for clear error. The appellate court reviews issues of law de novo (anew, no deference) and may reverse or modify the lower court's decision if the appellate court believes the lower court misapplied the facts or the law. An appellate court may also review the lower judge's discretionary decisions, such as whether the judge properly granted a new trial or disallowed evidence. The lower court's decision is only changed in cases of an "abuse of discretion". This standard tends to be even more deferential than the "clear error" standard.

Before hearing any case, the court must have jurisdiction to consider the appeal. The authority of appellate courts to review the decisions of lower courts varies widely from one jurisdiction to another. In some areas, the appellate court has limited powers of review. Generally, an appellate court's judgment provides the final directive of the appeals courts as to the matter appealed, setting out with specificity the court's determination that the action appealed from should be affirmed, reversed, remanded or modified. [4] Depending on the type of case and the decision below, appellate review primarily consists of: an entirely new hearing (a non trial de novo); a hearing where the appellate court gives deference to factual findings of the lower court; or review of particular legal rulings made by the lower court (an appeal on the record).

Bifurcation of civil and criminal appeals

While many appellate courts have jurisdiction over all cases decided by lower courts, some systems have appellate courts divided by the type of jurisdiction they exercise. Some jurisdictions have specialized appellate courts, such as the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which only hears appeals raised in criminal cases, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which has general jurisdiction but derives most of its caseload from patent cases, on one hand, and appeals from the Court of Federal Claims on the other. In the United States, Alabama, Tennessee, and Oklahoma also have separate courts of criminal appeals. Texas and Oklahoma have the final determination of criminal cases vested in their respective courts of criminal appeals, [5] while Alabama and Tennessee allow decisions of its court of criminal appeals to be finally appealed to the state supreme court. [6] [7]

Courts of criminal appeals


Courts of civil appeals

Appellate courts by country


The Victorian Court of Appeal Supreme Court of Victoria (5064240836).jpg
The Victorian Court of Appeal

The High Court has appellate jurisdiction over all other courts. Leave must be granted by the court, before the appeal matter is heard. The High Court is paramount to all federal courts. Further, it has an constitutionally entrenched general power of appeal from the Supreme Courts of the States and Territories. [8] [9] Appeals to the High Court are by special leave only, which is generally only granted in cases of public importance, matters involving the interpretation of the Commonwealth Constitution, or where the law has been inconsistently applied across the States and Territories.[19] Therefore, in the vast majority of cases, the appellate divisions of the Supreme Courts of each State and Territory and the Federal Court are the final courts of appeal. [10]

New Zealand

The Court of Appeal of New Zealand, located in Wellington, is New Zealand's principal intermediate appellate court. [11] In practice, most appeals are resolved at this intermediate appellate level, rather than in the Supreme Court. [12]


The Court of Appeals of the Philippines is the principal intermediate appellate court of that country. The Court of Appeals is primarily found in Manila, with three divisions each in Cebu City and Cagayan de Oro. Other appellate courts include the Sandiganbayan for cases involving graft and corruption, and the Court of Tax Appeals for cases involving tax. Appeals from all three appellate courts are to the Supreme Court.

Sri Lanka

The Court of Appeal of Sri Lanka, located in Colombo, is the second senior court in the Sri Lankan legal system.

United Kingdom

United States

In the United States, both state and federal appellate courts are usually restricted to examining whether the lower court made the correct legal determinations, rather than hearing direct evidence and determining what the facts of the case were. [13] Furthermore, U.S. appellate courts are usually restricted to hearing appeals based on matters that were originally brought up before the trial court. Hence, such an appellate court will not consider an appellant's argument if it is based on a theory that is raised for the first time in the appeal. [14]

The Fifth District Court of Appeal for Florida, an intermediate appellate court for the Florida judicial system FL5DistrictCourtAppeal 0766.JPG
The Fifth District Court of Appeal for Florida, an intermediate appellate court for the Florida judicial system

In most U.S. states, and in U.S. federal courts, parties before the court are allowed one appeal as of right. This means that a party who is unsatisfied with the outcome of a trial may bring an appeal to contest that outcome. However, appeals may be costly, and the appellate court must find an error on the part of the court below that justifies upsetting the verdict. Therefore, only a small proportion of trial court decisions result in appeals. Some appellate courts, particularly supreme courts, have the power of discretionary review, meaning that they can decide whether they will hear an appeal brought in a particular case.[ citation needed ]


Many U.S. jurisdictions title their appellate court a court of appeal or court of appeals. [1] Both terms are used in the United States, but the plural form is more common in American English, while in contrast, British English uses only the singular form. [1] The correct form is whichever is the statutorily prescribed or customary form for a particular court and particular jurisdiction; in other words, one should never write "court of appeal" when the court at issue clearly prefers to be called a "court of appeals", and vice versa. [1]

Historically, certain jurisdictions have titled their appellate court a court of errors (or court of errors and appeals), on the premise that it was intended to correct errors made by lower courts. Examples of such courts include the New Jersey Court of Errors and Appeals (which existed from 1844 to 1947), the Connecticut Supreme Court of Errors (which has been renamed the Connecticut Supreme Court), the Kentucky Court of Errors (renamed the Kentucky Supreme Court), and the Mississippi High Court of Errors and Appeals (since renamed the Supreme Court of Mississippi). In some jurisdictions, a court able to hear appeals is known as an appellate division.

The phrase "court of appeals" most often refers to intermediate appellate courts. However, the New York Court of Appeals is the highest appellate court in New York. The New York Supreme Court is a trial court of general jurisdiction. The Supreme Court of Maryland was known as the Court of Appeals, and the Appellate Court of Maryland was known as the Court of Special Appeals, until a 2022 constitutional amendment changed their names. Depending on the system, certain courts may serve as both trial courts and appellate courts, hearing appeals of decisions made by courts with more limited jurisdiction.

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Appellate procedure in the United States</span> National rules of court appeals

United States appellate procedure involves the rules and regulations for filing appeals in state courts and federal courts. The nature of an appeal can vary greatly depending on the type of case and the rules of the court in the jurisdiction where the case was prosecuted. There are many types of standard of review for appeals, such as de novo and abuse of discretion. However, most appeals begin when a party files a petition for review to a higher court for the purpose of overturning the lower court's decision.

In the United States, a state supreme court is the highest court in the state judiciary of a U.S. state. On matters of state law, the judgment of a state supreme court is considered final and binding in both state and federal courts.

In law, the expression trial de novo means a "new trial" by a different tribunal. A trial de novo is usually ordered by an appellate court when the original trial failed to decide in a manner dictated by law.

In the United States, a state court has jurisdiction over disputes with some connection to a U.S. state. State courts handle the vast majority of civil and criminal cases in the United States; the United States federal courts are far smaller in terms of both personnel and caseload, and handle different types of cases. States often provide their trial courts with general jurisdiction and state trial courts regularly have concurrent jurisdiction with federal courts. Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and their subject-matter jurisdiction arises only under federal law.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">United States courts of appeals</span> Post-1891 U.S. appellate circuit courts

The United States courts of appeals are the intermediate appellate courts of the United States federal judiciary. They hear appeals of cases from the United States district courts and some U.S. administrative agencies, and their decisions can be appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States. The courts of appeals are divided into 13 "Circuits". Eleven of the circuits are numbered "First" through "Eleventh" and cover geographic areas of the United States and hear appeals from the U.S. district courts within their borders. The District of Columbia Circuit covers only Washington, DC. The Federal Circuit hears appeals from federal courts across the United States in cases involving certain specialized areas of law.

In law, certiorari is a court process to seek judicial review of a decision of a lower court or government agency. Certiorari comes from the name of an English prerogative writ, issued by a superior court to direct that the record of the lower court be sent to the superior court for review. The term is Latin for "to be made more certain", and comes from the opening line of such writs, which traditionally began with the Latin words "Certiorari volumus...".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Court of Cassation (France)</span> Highest judicial court in France

The Court of Cassation is the supreme court for civil and criminal cases in France. It is one of the country's four apex courts, along with the Council of State, the Constitutional Council and the Jurisdictional Disputes Tribunal.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Trial court</span> Type of court in which trials take place

A trial court or court of first instance is a court having original jurisdiction, in which trials take place. Appeals from the decisions of trial courts are usually made by higher courts with the power of appellate review. Most appellate courts do not have the authority to hear testimony or take evidence, but instead rule solely on matters of law.

In common law systems, a superior court is a court of general jurisdiction over civil and criminal legal cases. A superior court is "superior" in relation to a court with limited jurisdiction, which is restricted to civil cases involving monetary amounts with a specific limit, or criminal cases involving offenses of a less serious nature. A superior court may hear appeals from lower courts. For courts of general jurisdiction in civil law system, see ordinary court.

A writ of coram nobis is a legal order allowing a court to correct its original judgment upon discovery of a fundamental error that did not appear in the records of the original judgment's proceedings and that would have prevented the judgment from being pronounced. The term coram nobis is Latin for "before us" and the meaning of its full form, quae coram nobis resident, is "which [things] remain in our presence". The writ of coram nobis originated in the courts of common law in the English legal system during the sixteenth century.

The court system of Canada is made up of many courts differing in levels of legal superiority and separated by jurisdiction. In the courts, the judiciary interpret and apply the law of Canada. Some of the courts are federal in nature, while others are provincial or territorial.

Discretionary review is the authority appellate courts have to decide which appeals they will consider from among the cases submitted to them. This offers the judiciary a filter on what types of cases are appealed, because judges have to consider in advance which cases will be accepted. The appeals court will then be able to decide substantive cases with the lowest opportunity cost. The opposite of discretionary review is any review mandated by statute, which guides appellate courts about what they can and cannot do during the review process.

Discretionary jurisdiction is a power that allows a court to engage in discretionary review. This power gives a court the authority to decide whether to hear a particular case brought before it. Typically, courts of last resort and intermediate courts in a state or country will have discretionary jurisdiction. In contrast, the lower courts have no such power. For this reason, the lower courts must entertain any case properly filed, so long as the court has subject matter jurisdiction over the questions of law and in personam jurisdiction over the parties to the case. Customarily a court is granted the power by rule, statute, or constitutional provision. When a constitutional provision establishes the court's power, it will have more limitations on its screening process. The usual intent behind granting power through a constitutional provision is to maintain decisional uniformity.

The federal judiciary of the United States is one of the three branches of the federal government of the United States organized under the United States Constitution and laws of the federal government. The U.S. federal judiciary consists primarily of the U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. Courts of Appeals, and the U.S. District Courts. It also includes a variety of other lesser federal tribunals.

In law, the standard of review is the amount of deference given by one court in reviewing a decision of a lower court or tribunal. A low standard of review means that the decision under review will be varied or overturned if the reviewing court considers there is any error at all in the lower court's decision. A high standard of review means that deference is accorded to the decision under review, so that it will not be disturbed just because the reviewing court might have decided the matter differently; it will be varied only if the higher court considers the decision to have obvious error. The standard of review may be set by statute or precedent. In the United States, "standard of review" also has a separate meaning concerning the level of deference the judiciary gives to Congress when ruling on the constitutionality of legislation.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Supreme court</span> Highest court in a jurisdiction

In most legal jurisdictions, a supreme court, also known as a court of last resort, apex court, and highcourt of appeal, is the highest court within the hierarchy of courts. Broadly speaking, the decisions of a supreme court are binding on all other courts in a nation and are not subject to further review by any other court. Supreme courts typically function primarily as appellate courts, hearing appeals from decisions of lower trial courts, or from intermediate-level appellate courts. A Supreme Court can also, in certain circumstances, act as a court of original jurisdiction, however, this is typically limited to constitutional law.

Uniformity and jurisdiction in the tax decisions of the United States federal courts is the ongoing debate spanning many decades about achievement of uniformity and decisionmaking by federal courts when addressing tax controversies against the backdrop of multiple, regionally diverse courts with federal tax jurisdiction.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">South Carolina Court of Appeals</span> Intermediate appellate court of South Carolina

The South Carolina Court of Appeals is the intermediate-level appellate court for the state of South Carolina.

In law, an appeal is the process in which cases are reviewed by a higher authority, where parties request a formal change to an official decision. Appeals function both as a process for error correction as well as a process of clarifying and interpreting law. Although appellate courts have existed for thousands of years, common law countries did not incorporate an affirmative right to appeal into their jurisprudence until the 19th century.



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  3. "A Guide to Illinois Civil Appellate Procedure" (PDF). Appellate Lawyers Association. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 9, 2015. Retrieved July 7, 2015.
  4. State v. Randolph, 210 N.J. 330, 350 n.5 (2012), citing Mandel, New Jersey Appellate Practice (Gann Law Books 2012), chapter 28:2
  5. "Bifurcated Appellate Review: The Texas Story of Two High Courts".
  6. "Alabama Judicial System".
  7. "About the Court of Criminal Appeals - Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts".
  8. Constitution (Cth) s 73.
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  10. Kirby, Michael (2007). "Maximising special leave performance in the High Court of Australia" (PDF). UNSW Law Journal. 30 (3): 731–732, 743–747. Retrieved April 16, 2021.
  11. "Court of Appeal". Retrieved August 7, 2014.
  12. "History of court system — Courts of New Zealand". Courts of New Zealand. Retrieved May 4, 2018.
  13. "Court Role and Structure". United States Courts. Retrieved July 7, 2015.
  14. "How Courts Work | Public Education". Retrieved June 23, 2016.


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