The Legal system

The Legal system
The law is one of the most traditional areas of
national life and the legal profession has
jealously protected its position against outside
- Its main virtue is its independence from the
system of government and as such, a safeguard
of civil liberties.
- its main vice lies in its resistance to reform,
and the maintenance of its own privileges
which may be contrary to public interest.
England and Wales
the legal system for England and Wales does not
have a criminal or civil code, but is founded upon
two basic elements:
- Acts of Parliament or statute law
- Common law (which is the outcome of past
decisions and practices based upon custom and
Common law has slowly built up since Anglo-Saxon
times 1000 years ago, while Parliament has been
enacting statutes since the 13th century
All criminal law is set out in Acts of Parliament, while
the greater part of civil law depends upon
common law.
 European
Community law also
applies to Britain by virtue of its
membership of the European Union
and it takes precedence over
domestic law.
 In
1997, Britain finally took steps to
incorporate the European Convention
on Human Rights into domestic law
House of Lords
Court of Appeal
(Civil Division)
House of Lords
Court of Appeal
(Criminal Division)
High Court
Queen’s Bench
Country Court
Crown Court
Magistrates’ Court
(Juvenile Court)
Composition of Judiciary
Law Lords
Appeal Court judges
High Court judges
Circuit judges
2. Scotland
The Scottish legal system is similar to
the English one, but is more
influenced by Roman law, like other
systems in Europe.
Its main courts are
- the Sheriff’s Courts (like Crown
Courts) for civil and criminal cases,
- The Court of Session for civil cases.
The Court of Session is divided into:
Outer House (a court of first instance)
Inner House (a court of Appeal), has 2
divisions of 4 judges respectively,
* 1 under the direction of the Lord
* 3 under the direction of the Lord
Justice Clerk
Less serious cases are tried in the Sheriff’s
Courts (like Crown Courts) and District
 More serious cases go to the High Court of
Juries are made up of 15 rather than 12
Minor offences are dealt with in District
Courts (the equivalent of Magistrates’
The senior law officer in the High Court of
Justiciary and in all Scotland is the Lord
Justice General, and the second rank is
the Lord Justice Clerk.
The Crime and the Police
1. The crime
The initial decision to bring a criminal
charge normally lies with the police, but
since 1986 a Crown Prosecution Service
(CPS) has examined the evidence on
which the police have charged a suspect
to decide whether the case should go to
A Court normally consists of 3 lay
magistrates who are advised on points of
law by a legally qualified clerk.
A Crown Court is presided over by a judge,
but a verdict is reached by a jury of 12
citizens, randomly selected from the local
electoral rolls.
The judge must make sure that the trial is
properly conducted, that the ‘counsels’
(barristers) for the prosecution and
defence comply with the rules regarding
the evidence that they produce and the
examination of witnesses, and that the
jury are helped to reach their decision by
the judge’s summary of the evidence in a
way which indicates the relevant points of
law and the critical issues on which they
must decide in order to reach a verdict.
Like Parliament, Crown Courts are
adversarial, contests between 2 opposing
Neither the prosecution nor defence counsel
is concerned to establish the whole truth
about the accused person.
Both may well wish to avoid aspects which
weaken their case that the accused person
is either guilty beyond reasonable doubt
or that sufficient reasonable doubt exists
for that person to declare ‘not guilty’.
A person convicted in a magistrates’ court
may appeal against its decision to the
Crown Court.
An appeal against a decision to the Crown
Court may be taken to the Court of Appeal
(Criminal Division), but it is seldom
The Court of Appeal dislikes overturning a
Crown Court decision unless the evidence
is overwhelming or there has been some
error of legal procedure.
The highest court in the land is the
House of Lords, which will consider a
case referred from the Court of
Appeal where a point of general
public importance seems to be at
In practice the Lords are represented
by five or more of the nine Law
2. The Police
The British police force was a source of
great pride (20 years ago). “What’s gone
wrong with the Police?” (in early 1990).
It referred to the frequency of scandals
during the 1980s involving the police,
concerning the excessive use of violence
to maintain public order (Brixton riots
1981, the miners’ strike 1984-85, the
Wapping strike 1986, the anti-poll tax
riots 1990); violence in the questioning of
suspects (particularly, but not exclusively,
in connection with Northern Ireland); etc.
Unlike the Police in almost every other
countries, the British police officers
enjoyed a trusted, respected, and friendly
relationship with the public.
The ‘bobbies on the beat’ made it their
business to learn about their
This was probably a rosy, idealized view of
the police, but it was a genuine source of
pride that almost alone in the police world,
the British bobby was unarmed.
 As
Ralf Dahrendorf says, “It is hard
to exaggerate the significance of the
fact that the British police did not,
and very largely do not, carry
 The
British police are probably still
among the finest in the world, but
clearly there are serious and growing
At the end of 1980s reported that one
in 5 people believed the Police used
unnecessary force on arrest, falsified
statements, planted evidence and
used violence in police stations.
Until 1987 the police investigated
alleged police malpractice
themselves. And many people
believed that police malfeasance is
more widespread than the statistics
would suggest.
As the challenges of modern society
became more complex, the response of
the Conservative government was to give
the police more manpower and more
 However, there is no indication these
extra resources had any effect at all on
recorded offences which rose in England
and Wales.
* in other words, the steepest increase in
crime coincided with the greatest increase
in crime prevention expenditure.
Traditionally the legal profession has been
divided into two distinct practices, each
with entrenched rights:
- only solicitors may deal directly with the
public, and
- only barristers (professional advocates)
may fight a case in the higher courts
(Crown Courts and the High Court).
Both have maintained their own selfregulating bodies, the Law Society for
solicitors and the Bar for barristers.
A member of the public dissatisfied
with the services of a solicitor may
complain to the Law Society, but this
does not often take action against its
own members except in the case of
some gross offence or negligence.
The Law Society has often infuriated
members of the public by advising
them to take their complaint to
another solicitor.
Theoretically, the barristers are the senior branch
of legal profession.
They are able to reach the top of the profession, a
High Court judgeship.
To become a barrister, a candidate must obtain
entrance to one of the 4 Inns of Court, law
colleges which date from the middle ages,
complete the legal training and pass the Bar
A newly qualified barrister will enter the ‘chamber’
of an established one, and slowly build up
experience and a reputation as an effective
advocate in the higher courts.
Discuss about the court system in
England and Wales is organized.
Discuss about the role of the police in
law enforcement.
How does the British way of treating
offenders differ from treatment in our
Do you think that a relatively small legal
profession, as in Britain, is desirable?
What are the two basic sources of
English Law? Explain.
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