High Court of Justice

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High Court of Justice
Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom (HM Government) (2022).svg
Royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom
Established1 November 1875 [1]
Jurisdiction England and Wales
Location Strand, City of Westminster, London
Authorized by
Appeals to
Website judiciary.uk/highcourt

The High Court of Justice in London, known properly as His Majesty's High Court of Justice in England, [2] together with the Court of Appeal and the Crown Court, are the Senior Courts of England and Wales. Its name is abbreviated as EWHC (England and Wales High Court) for legal citation purposes.


The High Court deals at first instance with all high-value and high-importance civil law (non-criminal) cases; it also has a supervisory jurisdiction over all subordinate courts and tribunals, with a few statutory exceptions, though there are debates as to whether these exceptions are effective. [3]

The High Court consists of three divisions: the King's Bench Division, the Chancery Division and the Family Division. Their jurisdictions overlap in some cases, and cases started in one division may be transferred by court order to another where appropriate. The differences of procedure and practice between divisions are partly historical, derived from the separate courts which were merged into the single High Court by the 19th-century Judicature Acts, but are mainly driven by the usual nature of their work, for example, conflicting evidence of fact is quite commonly given in person in the King's Bench Division, but evidence by affidavit is more usual in the Chancery Division which is primarily concerned with points of law.

Most High Court proceedings are heard by a single judge, but certain kinds of proceedings, especially in the King's Bench Division, are assigned to a divisional court—a bench of two or more judges. Exceptionally the court may sit with a jury, but in practice normally only in defamation cases or cases against the police. Litigants are normally represented by counsel but may be represented by solicitors qualified to hold a right of audience, or they may act in person.

In principle, the High Court is bound by its own previous decisions, but there are conflicting authorities as to what extent this is so. Appeal from the High Court in civil matters normally lies to the Court of Appeal, and thence in cases of importance to the Supreme Court (the House of Lords before 2009); in some cases a "leapfrog" appeal may be made directly to the Supreme Court. In criminal matters, appeals from the King's Bench Divisional Court are made directly to the Supreme Court.

The High Court is based at the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand in the City of Westminster, London. It has district registries across England and Wales; almost all High Court proceedings may be issued and heard at a district registry.


The Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand in the City of Westminster Royal Court2.jpg
The Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand in the City of Westminster

The High Court of Justice was established in 1875 by the Supreme Court of Judicature Act 1873. The Act merged eight existing English courts – the Court of Chancery, the Court of King's Bench, the Court of Common Pleas, the Court of Exchequer, the High Court of Admiralty, the Court of Probate, the Court for Divorce and Matrimonial Causes, and the London Court of Bankruptcy – into a new Supreme Court of Judicature (now known as the Senior Courts of England and Wales). The new Supreme Court was divided into the Court of Appeal, which exercised appellate jurisdiction, and the High Court, which exercised original jurisdiction.


Originally, the High Court consisted of five divisions, the King's Bench, Common Pleas, Exchequer, Chancery, and Probate, Divorce and Admiralty divisions. In 1880, the Common Pleas and Exchequer divisions were abolished, leaving three divisions. The Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division was renamed to the Family Division by the Administration of Justice Act 1970, and its jurisdiction reorganised accordingly. The High Court is now organised into three divisions: the King's Bench Division, the Chancery Division, and the Family Division. [4] A list of hearings in the High Court's divisions is published daily. [5]

King's Bench Division

The King's Bench Division or Queen's Bench Division when the monarch is female hears a wide range of common law cases and also has special responsibility as a supervisory court. It includes subdivisions such as the Administrative Court, the Commercial Court, the Technology and Construction Court, and the Admiralty Court.

Until 2005, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales was the head of the Division. The Constitutional Reform Act 2005 created a President of the Queen's Bench Division.

Chancery Division

The Chancery Division (housed in the Rolls Building) deals with business law, trusts law, probate law, insolvency, and land law in relation to issues of equity. It has specialist courts (the Patents Court and the Companies Court) which deal with patents and registered designs and company law matters respectively. All tax appeals are assigned to the Chancery Division.

Until 2005, the Lord Chancellor was the de jure head of the Chancery Division, but appointed a Vice-Chancellor who nominally acted his deputy. The Constitutional Reform Act 2005 renamed the Vice-Chancellor to Chancellor of the High Court and made him the head of the Division.

Cases heard before the Chancery Division are reported in the Chancery Division law reports. In practice, there is some overlap of jurisdiction with the KBD.

From October 2015, the Chancery Division and the Commercial Court have maintained the Financial List for cases which would benefit from being heard by judges with suitable expertise and experience in the financial markets or which raise issues of general importance to the financial markets. The procedure was introduced to enable fast, efficient and high quality dispute resolution of claims related to the financial markets. [6]

Business and Property Courts

The formation within the High Court of the Business and Property Courts of England & Wales was announced in March 2017, [7] and launched in London in July 2017. [8] The courts would in future administer the specialist jurisdictions previously administered in the King's Bench Division under the names of the Admiralty Court, the Commercial Court, and the Technology and Construction Court, and in the Chancery Division under the lists for Business, Company and Insolvency, Competition, Financial, Intellectual Property, Revenue, and Trusts and Probate. The change was meant to enable judges who have suitable expertise and experience in the specialist business and property jurisdictions to be cross-deployed to sit in the specialist courts, while continuing existing practices for cases that proceed in them. [9]

Family Division

The Family Division deals with personal human matters such as divorce, children, probate and medical treatment. Its decisions are often of great importance only to the parties, but may concern life and death and are perhaps inevitably regarded as controversial. For example, it permitted a hospital to separate conjoined twins without the parents' consent. [10] In 2002 it made a landmark judgement in the case of Ms B v An NHS Hospital Trust regarding the right of mentally competent patients to withdraw from life-saving treatment. The Family Division exercises jurisdiction to hear all cases relating to children's welfare, and has an exclusive jurisdiction in wardship cases. Its head is the President of the Family Division, currently Sir Andrew McFarlane. High Court Judges of the Family Division sit at the Royal Courts of Justice, Strand, London, while District Judges of the Family Division sit at First Avenue House, Holborn, London. [11]

The Family Division is comparatively modern. The Judicature Acts first combined the Court of Probate, the Court for Divorce and Matrimonial Causes and the High Court of Admiralty into the then Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division of the High Court, or The Court of Wills, Wives and Wrecks, as it was informally called. That was renamed the Family Division in 1971 when the admiralty and contentious probate business were transferred elsewhere. [12]

The Family Division has faced criticism by allowing allegedly abusive partners to cross-examine their former partners; a procedure already banned in criminal procedure. Peter Kyle, MP for Hove, claimed this amounted to "abuse and brutalisation", and called for the system to be changed. [13] Liz Truss, when she was Lord Chancellor, announced plans to end this practice, and proposals were contained in Clause 47 of the Prisons and Courts Bill before Parliament was prorogued for the 2017 general election. [14] [15] [16]


The High Court only operates within four traditional periods in the year, known as sittings:

Michaelmas: 1 October to 21 December
Hilary: 11 January to the Wednesday before Easter
Easter: the second Tuesday after Easter to the Friday before the Spring bank holiday (last Monday in May)
Trinity: the second Tuesday after the spring holiday to 31 July


The Justices of His Majesty's High Court of Justice are informally known as High Court judges, and in judicial matters are formally styled "The Honourable Mr(s) Justice (Forename) Surname", abbreviated in writing to "Surname J". In court, they are properly addressed as My Lord or My Lady. Since by convention they are knighted upon appointment, socially they are addressed as Sir Forename or Dame Forename. High Court judges are sometimes referred to as red judges after the colour of their formal robes, in contrast to the junior circuit judges who are referred to as purple judges for the same reason.

Masters (also judges in the High Court) are addressed as 'Master', regardless of gender, or 'Judge' and they wear dark blue gowns with pink tabs echoing the red of the High Court justices' robes. Within the Chancery Division of the High Court, there are also Insolvency and Companies Court Judges, who hear the majority of High Court insolvency (both personal and corporate) and company law cases and trials, together with some appeals from the County Court. They too wear dark blue gowns with pink tabs and are addressed as 'Judge' in court.

Justices of the High Court, Insolvency and Companies Court Judges and Masters are appointed by the King on the recommendation of Judicial Appointments Commission, from qualified lawyers. The Lord Chancellor, and all government ministers, are statutorily required to "uphold the continued independence of the judiciary", [17] and both Houses of Parliament have standing orders to similar effect. High Court justices may be removed before their statutory retirement age only by a procedure requiring the approval of both Houses of Parliament.

In addition to full High Court justices, other qualified persons such as retired judges, circuit judges from the County Court, and barristers are appointed to sit as deputy judges of the High Court to hear particular cases, and while sitting are addressed as though they were full High Court judges. Trials in London are also conducted by Insolvency and Companies Court Judges and Masters, who have almost identical trial jurisdiction to full High Court judges but who do not hear committals to prison, criminal cases, or judicial review and do not travel 'on circuit' to outlying courts.

High Court justices (usually from the King's Bench Division) also sit in the Crown Court, which try the more significant criminal cases, but High Court Judges only hear the most serious and important cases, with circuit judges and recorders hearing the majority.

Circuits and district registries

Historically the ultimate source of all justice in England was the monarch. All judges sit in judgment on the monarch's behalf (hence they have the royal coat of arms displayed behind them) and criminal prosecutions are generally made in the monarch's name. Historically, local magnates administered justice in manorial courts and other ways. Inevitably, the justice administered was patchy and appeals were made direct to the monarch. The monarch's travelling representatives (whose primary purpose was tax collection) acted on behalf of the monarch to make the administration of justice more even.

The tradition continues of judges travelling around the country in set 'circuits', where they hear cases in the 'district registries' of the High Court. The 'main' High Court (in the City of Westminster, London) is not itself a High Court district registry. [18]

The High Court previously divided England and Wales into six circuits namely the Midlands, Northern England, North Eastern England, South Eastern England, Wales (including Cheshire), and Western England. [19] Since 2005, the High Court has used seven circuits, listed below, which are identical to the Crown Court regions. [20] [21]

Costs Office

The Senior Courts Costs Office, which quantifies legal costs pursuant to orders for costs, serves all divisions. The Costs Office is part of the High Court, [22] so generally all detailed assessment proceedings commenced in the Costs Office are subject to provisional assessment. [23] Exceptions from provisional assessment are detailed assessment proceedings in which the costs claimed are large (greater than £75,000) or in which the potential paying party does not respond to the notice of assessment.

See also


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    1. Wilson, Arthur (1875). "The Supreme Court of Judicature Acts 1873 and 1875. Schedule of Rules and Forms, and other Rules and Orders. With notes". archive.org. Stevens and Sons.
    2. "Interpretation Act 1978, schedule 1". The National Archives.
    3. "Anisminic Ltd v Foreign Compensation Commission [1968] UKHL 6 (17 December 1968)". www.bailii.org. Retrieved 25 January 2021.
    4. Williams, Smith (2010). p. 6.
    5. RCJ Daily court lists
    6. Authorised Guide to the Financial List, 1 October 2015
    7. "Judicial Office press release 12 March 2017". Archived from the original on 28 July 2017. Retrieved 5 July 2017.
    8. "Launch of Business and Property Courts, Judicial Office 4 July 2017". Archived from the original on 28 July 2017. Retrieved 5 July 2017.
    9. Explanatory Statement issued by High Court 18 May 2017, p.2
    10. Herring, Jonathan (October 2017). "Re A (Children)(Conjoined Twins) [2001] 2 WLR 480, Court of Appeal". Law Trove. doi:10.1093/he/9780191847295.003.0036.
    11. "Principal Registry of the Family Division (PRFD)". The Law Pages. Retrieved 5 January 2023.
    12. "Remarks by Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division and Head of Family Justice in the President's Court" (PDF). Courts and Tribunals Judiciary. 29 April 2014. Retrieved 5 January 2023.
    13. Laville, Sandra (22 December 2016). "Revealed: how family courts allow abusers to torment their victims". The Guardian. ISSN   0261-3077 . Retrieved 19 June 2017.
    14. Courts to ban cross-examination of victims by abusers
    15. "Liz Truss to ban 'humiliating' questioning of women by abusive exes in court". PoliticsHome.com. 12 February 2017. Retrieved 19 June 2017.
    16. "Clause 47 | Prisons and Courts Bill 2016-17". services.parliament.uk. UK Parliament. 20 April 2017. Retrieved 19 June 2017.
    17. Section 3, Constitutional Reform Act 2005 https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2005/4/section/3
    18. partial support: UK Ministry Of Justice, King's Bench Division webpage, 'Outside London, the work of the King's Bench Division is administered in provincial offices known as District Registries. In London, the work is administered in the Central Office [of the King's Bench Division of the High Court] at the Royal Courts of Justice.' (accessed 17 April 2014)
    19. Legal systems in the UK (England and Wales): overview – The High Court
    20. The Judicial System of England and Wales: A visitor's guide - What are Circuits? from the Judicial Office
    21. Courts and tribunals judiciary: Circuit judge
    22. Ministry of Justice, CPR Part 47 Practice Direction 4.2(2)(c), 'the Costs Office as part of the High Court', accessed 18 April 2014
    23. Ministry of Justice, Civil Procedure Rule 47.15(1), accessed 18 April 2014