Business Law & Compliance

What is the difference between tribunals and court?

Business Advice | 10 September 2021 | 3 years ago

What is the difference between tribunal and court?

When you are assessing your steps in a legal process, you may be wondering where a tribunal fits in versus a court. To help you ascertain the correct path, here is an overview of the difference between tribunals and courts.

What are tribunals, and what do they do?

Tribunal hearings are a more accessible and faster process than Courts and are a little less formal, e.g. you do not have to appear with a legal representative. Here are the different types of tribunals for the United Kingdom.

Employment Tribunals

In England and Wales, employment tribunals (ET) deal with disputes regarding workplace discrimination and statutory employment law. The employee (claimant) reads out their witness statement, the respondent (employer) will question the claimant and give an employer’s statement. The hearing usually concludes on the same day, and rulings are binding. Fines or costs are enforceable by law.

There are no fees charged for taking your claim to a Tribunal, but in some instances, the claimant may have to pay the respondent’s costs. Tribunals handle regulatory, disciplinary or administrative matters, and, unlike the courts, the tribunal system is UK-wide.

Scotland has a very similar system of ETs, but in Northern Ireland, there is the use of Fair Employment Tribunals (discrimination) and Industrial Tribunals (employment law).

Employment Appeal Tribunal

The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) receives appeals lodged against employment tribunal rulings. If there is an appeal on the EAT ruling, this proceeds into the court system ending at the Supreme Court.

Competition Appeal Tribunal

Appeals of rulings made by the Office of Fair Trading or the regulators in the following sectors are heard by the Competition Appeal Tribunal hears appeals.

  • Railways,
  • Water,
  • Gas,
  • Electricity,
  • Telecommunications,
  • Air traffic services.
If there is an appeal against the ruling, it is heard via the court systems ending at the Supreme Court.

First-tier and Upper Tribunal

There is a unified tribunals system consisting of the First-tier Tribunal and the Upper Tribunal. This system has authority in the UK. There are seven different chambers to the First-tier covering administrative disputes:

  • War Pensions and Armed Forces Compensation Chamber
  • Tax Chamber
  • Social Entitlement Chamber
  • Property Chamber
  • Immigration and Asylum Chamber
  • Health, Education and Social Care Chamber
  • General Regulatory Chamber
Appeals against the First-tier decisions go to the Upper Tribunal, and these are heard in four different chambers.

  • Tax and Chancery Chamber
  • Lands Chamber
  • Immigration and Asylum Chamber
  • Administrative Appeals Chamber
The subsequent rulings carry the status of a High Court ruling of England and Wales. Some reviews might be heard in the Queen’s Bench Division of the Administrative Court.

If there is an appeal against the ruling, it is heard via the court systems ending at the Supreme Court.

What are the different courts, and what do they do?

Not all cases go straight to court, as the judge might request the representing lawyers of each side to attend a Case Management Conference to clarify the issues of the case.

There are fees related to claims via a court, and a lawyer will clarify this. Court rulings include allocating responsible parties for costs and the amounts. Here are the different types of courts in the UK:

The Appellate Courts

These courts consist of:

UK Supreme Court

The final court of appeal for any civil cases and criminal cases in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

Privy Council

The Supreme Court judges all sit on the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. They hear appeals originating from:

  • UK overseas territories,
  • Crown dependencies,
  • Qualifying Commonwealth countries
  • Qualifying republics

Court of Appeal

There are two divisions of the Court of Appeal of England and Wales:

  • appeals from the Crown Court are heard in the Criminal Division,
  • appeals from the High Court, Family Court, senior tribunals, and county courts on civil and family matters are heard in the Civil Division.
The Court of Appeal and the High Court form the Senior Courts.

The Criminal Courts

These courts consist of:

Crown Court

The trials heard at these courts are for serious criminal offences or sentencing of a defendant who has pleaded guilty or has been convicted. The Court also hears appeals from magistrate courts.

Magistrates’ Courts

Over ninety per cent of all criminal cases are heard in this court, such as:

  • Summary offences (low seriousness),
  • Medium serious offences,
  • Pre-trial issues relating to serious offences,

Youth Courts

A youth court has less formal procedures than an adult court when dealing with juvenile criminal cases but excludes homicide. The latter goes to the Crown Court.

The Civil courts

These courts consist of:

High Court 

There are three divisions within the High Court, viz the Queen’s (or King’s) Bench Division, the Chancery Division and the Family Division.

Business and Property Courts

The Business and Property Courts of England and Wales combines a number of specialist courts under the Queen’s Bench and Chancery Divisions.

County Courts

These courts provide local justice relating to less important or lower value cases.

Family cases are not heard in County Courts anymore but in Family Courts. There are specialist county courts, such as:

  • Intellectual Property Enterprise Court (ex-Patents County Court)
  • Circuit Commercial Courts (ex-Mercantile Court)
This ends the analysis of the different courts and the roles they play.

The Military courts

The military court status is similar to the Crown Court but with different procedures. All participants, except for the defendant’s representative, are in uniform. Military courts consist of:

  • Court Martial
  • Court Martial Appeal Court
  • Summary Appeal Court
  • Service Civilian Court – for offences against service law, committed outside the British Isles by a civilian subject to service discipline. Similar to civilian magistrates’ courts.

The Coroners’ Courts

All 92 separate coroners jurisdictions are separate from the unified tribunals system and courts of England and Wales. They are locally funded and resourced, and they determine the reason for any unnatural, violent or sudden death.

Structure of the courts & tribunal system

The UK courts system has become complex through its organic development over 1,000 years.

Here is a diagram of the routes of the different cases through the court system.

Source:  Courts & Tribunals website

The tribunal system is independent of the court system, but the binding decisions from these tribunals can land up Courts of Appeal. The court structure covers England and Wales; the tribunal system covers England, Wales, and in some cases, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

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