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The history of the Court of Appeal

The Court of Appeal was created formally in 1875. Find out how it evolved – and continues to do so today.

The Court of Appeal of England and Wales was created in 1875, and is split into two 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 had been various courts which heard appeals on different aspects of the law, such as the Court of Exchequer Chamber. A growth in the number and complexity of cases, following the Industrial Revolution, led to the appointment of a Royal Commission, the Judicature Commission, which was required to examine the operation of the justice system and make recommendations for its reform. Its first report, issued in 1869, recommended the replacement of the existing courts with a new Supreme Court of Judicature, which was to be formed of a High Court and a Court of Appeal. Its recommendations were implemented by the Judicature Acts 1873 – 1875.

Following reforms contained in the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, the Court of Appeal is now one of the Senior Courts of England and Wales.

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

The Court of Appeal’s original jurisdiction was primarily civil. 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 it was created it sat at both Westminster Hall and in Lincoln’s Inn. Since the opening of the Royal Courts of Justice in 1882 it has been based there. On a number of occasions it does however sit outside London, and the Civil Division normally sits in Cardiff for two weeks each year.

Who sits in the Court of Appeal?

The Court is constituted of the Lord Chief Justice, Master of the Rolls and Heads of Division (President of the Queen’s Bench Division, President of the Family Division and Chancellor of the High Court), and 38 Lord and Lady Justices of Appeal.

The Lord Chief Justice is the President of the Criminal Division, while the Master of the Rolls is the President of the Civil Division. Normally one of the Lord or Lady Justices is appointed as Vice-President of the Criminal Division, while another is appointed Vice-President of the Civil Division.

In addition to these, permanent, judges of the Court, High Court judges and some senior Circuit Judges 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 either Division, as can serving Justices of the UK Supreme Court appointed from England and Wales. Normally three 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.