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Appeal process

There are many forms of appeal within the court and tribunal systems. The venue for an appeal and the procedural rules relating to an appeal depend on the type of decision that a person is appealing and the court or tribunal from which he is appealing.

Here's a summary of the appeal process, as it works at various different levels and for different types of decisions:

Supreme Court

On 1 October 2009, the Supreme Court became the highest and final court of appeal for all cases originating in the United Kingdom -- except for criminal cases originating in Scotland, for which the final court of appeal is the Scottish High Court of Justiciary. In so doing, it assumed the role previously performed by the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords.

Essentially, the Supreme Court hears and decides appeals from lower courts on matters that are of general public importance. For example, if there is an unresolved question about how a particular statute is to be interpreted, the Supreme Court might hear an appeal that raises that point in order to try to settle the uncertainty surrounding it.

The Supreme Court will not necessarily hear all cases that litigants bring to it. In some cases it makes the decision as to whether to hear an appeal, but there are also statutory restrictions on what it can hear. For instance, where the Court of Appeal has refused a party permission to appeal, the Supreme Court cannot hear a challenge to that refusal by the Court of Appeal.

The Court of Appeal

The Court of Appeal is the main appellate court in the UK, and hears a much larger number of appeals than the Supreme Court. It has two divisions -- civil and criminal.

The criminal division hears appeals from the Crown Court.

The civil division hears appeals from the High Court, the Country Courts, and from some tribunals, such as the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

There are some general principles that apply when a person seeks to appeal a decision of a lower court or tribunal.

First, in most cases, you need a court's permission in order to appeal. You will either get permission from the lower court or, if the lower court refuses permission, you can ask the appeal court for permission. In some cases, however, there is a statutory right of appeal -- so the court cannot deny permission for the appeal to be heard.

As with any litigation, an appeal will have cost implications. Generally, you will need to pay a court fee in order to appeal, and if you lose your appeal then you are likely to be liable for the other party's costs (including solicitors' and barristers' fees). Given the possible exposure for costs, most litigants will get advice as to their chances of success before they actually lodge an appeal.

In general, after the lower court gives its judgment, there is a relatively limited time period during which you must lodge an appeal. Usually, you have 21 days from the date of the lower court's decision -- although the lower court can set a different time limit.

In some circumstances, you can appeal lower court decisions that are not final decisions. Procedural rulings or summary rulings might be examples of these. There are special rules for the appeal of those types of decisions.

The Criminal Cases Review Commission

The Criminal Cases Review Commission is not a court, but is an independent public body that the government established in 1997 for the purpose of reviewing possible miscarriages of justice and, where appropriate, referring matters to the Court of Appeal (or to the Crown Court, for matters arising out of the Magistrates Courts).

The CCRC can only refer cases to an appellate court in limited circumstances, such as where there is new evidence or new arguments that the trial court did not consider. In addition, the CCRC normally will not consider an application for review unless the applicant has already attempted to appeal the criminal conviction or sentence in question.

The CCRC has jurisdiction over criminal matters originating in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. There is a separate Criminal Cases Review Commission for Scotland.

The High Court Appellate Office

Although the High Court is primarily a trial court (or court of first instance), it also has a significant appellate function. It has jurisdiction over a variety of different types of appeals, including appeals from tribunal decisions, appeals from decisions of lower courts such as the County Courts, and from decisions of certain High Court Masters.

The rules relating to appeals to the High Court Appellate Office are similar to those governing appeals to the Court of Appeal.

The Crown Court

A person who is convicted of an offence in the Magistrates Courts or Youth Courts may appeal the conviction to the Crown Court (provided he did not plead guilty). As with an appeal in a civil matter, there is a limited time period (ordinarily 21 days after the lower court decision) during which a person can bring an appeal.

The county court and tribunals

The County Court has jurisdiction to hear certain types of appeals, such as appeals from some local authority decisions. Some tribunals also have appellate functions. The Upper Tribunal hears appeals from the First-Tier Tribunal (which was recently created to consolidate the functions of several separate tribunals). The Employment Appeals Tribunal hears appeals from the Employment Tribunals.

Rules governing appeals

By and large, the rules and practice directions comprising Part 52 of the Civil Procedure Rules govern civil appeals in England and Wales. Individual courts do, however, have their own rules and procedures as well. Criminal appeals are governed by separate rules (Parts 53 to 75 of the Criminal Procedure Rules 2010).

The Upper Tribunal also has its own rules, which are established by statutory instrument, and which govern the criteria for bringing an appeal to the Upper Tribunal as well as time limits and procedures for giving notice and filing documents.

Scottish Courts

The UK Supreme Court is the highest court of appeal for civil actions arising in the Scottish Courts, while the High Court of Justiciary is the highest court of appeal for criminal matters. The Court of Session Outer House and Court of Session Inner House are, respectively, the equivalents of the High Court and the Court of Appeal in England and Wales. Scotland also has Sheriff Courts (broadly the equivalent of the County Courts) and Justice of the Peace courts (which are similar to Magistrates Courts). The court rules for the Scottish courts are available on the Scottish courts website.

Getting help with an appeal

The appellate process can be complicated and often involves complex questions of law and procedure. As a result, the vast majority of appeals are handled by lawyers rather than laypersons representing themselves. There are a number of specialist solicitors and barristers whose practice may consist almost entirely of handling appeals.

If you are looking for help with an appeal, the solicitor who handled the case for you in the lower court will likely be your first port of call. You can, of course, also do some research on your own by searching online, asking the Law Society, and/or using a solicitor matching service such as Contact Law.

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