The history of the Court of Appeal

The Court of Appeal was created formally in 1875. Find out how it has evolved over time.

The Court of Appeal of England and Wales was created in 1875, and is split into 2 permanent Divisions, the Civil Division (which hears family cases as well as a range of civil appeals) and the Criminal Division, which hears appeals against criminal convictions and sentences.

Evolution of the court

Before 1875 there were various courts which heard appeals on different aspects of the law. However, the Industrial Revolution led to an increase in the number and complexity of court cases, and the need for court reform to deal with them. A Royal Commission (the Judicature Commission) was appointed to consider reform. In 1869 it recommended the replacement of the existing courts with a new Supreme Court of Judicature. Its recommendations were implemented by the Judicature Acts 1873-1875.

The Court of Appeal was created as part of this new court. Following reforms contained in the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, the Court of Appeal is the highest court within the Senior Courts of England and Wales.

Where does it sit and what cases does it deal with?

The Court of Appeal originally focussed on civil appeals. It did not gain jurisdiction over criminal appeals until the Court of Criminal Appeal’s jurisdiction was transferred to it under the Criminal Appeal Act 1966. At the time of its creation, the Court of Appeal sat at both Westminster and in Lincoln’s Inn and is now based at the Royal Courts of Justice (and has been since its opening in 1882).

Who sits in the Court of Appeal?

The Court is comprised of:  

  • The Lord/Lady Chief Justice (President of the Criminal Division) 
  • The Master of the Rolls (President of the Civil Division) 
  • Those Justices of the United Kingdom Supreme Court who were or could have been appointed to the Court of Appeal 
  • The Heads of Division (President of the King’s Bench Division, President of the Family Division and Chancellor of the High Court) 
  • Up to 39 Lord and Lady Justices of Appeal (one of which is usually appointed as Vice-President of the Criminal Division and another the Vice-President of the Civil Division) 

In addition to these permanent judges of the Court, High Court judges and some senior Circuit Judges (who sit in the Crown Court and County Courts) are authorised to sit in the Criminal Division, while a more limited number of High Court judges are authorised to sit in the Civil Division. Retired Lord and Lady Justices can also hear cases in the Court. Normally 3 Lord or Lady Justices sit on an appeal, although a single Lord or Lady Justice usually hears applications for permission to appeal. 

Televising the court

Broadcasting of cases was permitted in October 2013.