Courts, convictions and the justice system

How the justice system works

There are a large number of different courts in England and Wales covering criminal, civil, business and family law. Understanding how the court system fits together, as well as how a person’s journey through the justice system might look, can be difficult.

The Ministry of Justice publishes a guide to court and administrative justice statistics which contains: summary figures on the number of courts, definitions of what each does, definitions of terms, and flowcharts which depict individual journeys through the justice system.

The Council of Europe occasionally publishes studies comparing the justice systems of different countries, with data about court organisation, legal aid, public funding, judges, lawyers and the fairness of trials. The most recent was in 2012.

List of all offences dealt with by courts and new ones introduced

The Ministry of Justice quarterly criminal justice statistics release contains a list of all offences that can be dealt with by the courts (which makes for a list well over 1,500 lines deep). The same release occasionally contains a guest chapter on new offences introduced in the last year.

Court cases and outcomes

Data on the numbers of people dealt with by civil, family and criminal courts, as well as the numbers of cases that go to the High Court, Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court (at the top of the court hierarchy) and for judicial review (that is, cases against public bodies) is provided every three months by court statistics (quarterly).

There are detailed figures on the numbers and types of cases that courts deal with. Data on almost 200 specific offences, including information on what outcomes are reached, is provided in annual tables. These are published in each quarterly update to December of the year, however the most recent release with this detail is 2012.

Figures for how defendants plead, the number of court cases that go unresolved, how long they take from original offence to resolution and the nature of the proceedings are available from the same place.

Figures for convictions and conviction rates (offenders found guilty) at different types of court and different offences are published as part of criminal justice statistics every three months. This data is broken down by age, sex and ethnicity. The annual release includes more detail for certain types of offence as well as historical figures since 2002.

Judges, magistrates and juries

In Magistrates’ Courts, cases are heard by magistrates (also known as ‘justices of the peace’), who are ordinary members of the public, or district judges, who are trained lawyers. In the Crown Court, the judge oversees proceedings and passes sentence, while a jury decides whether a defendant is guilty.

The number, type and workload (in terms of sitting days) of judges in England and Wales, as well as the number and gender of magistrates, is published in chapter 10 of annual judicial and court statistics.

The number of jurors summoned and recruited to the crown courts, as well as the verdicts they give, is published under crown court statistics as part of judicial and court statistics (both quarterly and annually). A detailed study on the behaviour and fairness of juries was published by the Ministry of Justice in 2010.


The Ministry of Justice publishes statistics on the number of cases brought to Employment Tribunals and the Employment Appeals Tribunal each year, going back to 2009/10.

Privacy injunctions

People who want to prevent the publication of private or confidential information can apply to the High Court for a privacy injunction. Statistics relating to these are published by the Ministry of Justice.