Media Law Lecture Notes 1: The Legal System in England and Wales.

October 02, 2011


Our first Media Law refresher lecture examined the outline of the legal system in England and Wales.

The United Kingdom does not have a single unified legal system—England and Wales have one system, Scotland another, and Northern Ireland a third.


There are exceptions to this rule however; for example in immigration law, the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal's jurisdiction covers the whole of the United Kingdom; and in employment law there is a single system of Employment Tribunals for England, Wales, and Scotland (but not Northern Ireland).


The United Kingdom has a tradition of 'free press', compared to other nations, it allows journalists much freedom. 


The description of the media's 'free press' must be privileged as there are many prohibitions on what can be published. 

People to note:

The Director Of Public Prosecutions


The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) is currently Keir Starmer. 

During his 20-year career, Keir has earned a reputation as one of the country's most gifted lawyers, and an expert in the field of human rights. 

He was Joint Head of Doughty Street Chambers before taking up the role of Director of Public Prosecutions in November 2008.

The DPP is responsible for the criminal justice policy, legal issues and prosecutions.  


The DDP is a civil servant (not a politician) and head the Crown Prosecution Service. 


The role is to bring prosecutions on behalf of the crown, having first consulted and advised police on such matters are evidence and the strength of the case. 


The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

Kenneth Clarke is the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice. 

The Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain, or Lord Chancellor, is a senior and important functionary in the government of the United Kingdom. 

He is the second highest ranking of the Great Officers of State, ranking after the Lord High Steward. 

The Lord Chancellor is appointed by the Sovereign on the advice of the Prime Minister. 
The Lord Chancellor is a member of the Cabinet and, by law, is responsible for the efficient functioning and independence of the courts.


The Lord Chancellor is a politician and member of the Cabinet of the governing party, the head of the judiciary and Speaker of the House of Lords. 

Another of the Lord Chancellor's responsibilities is to act as the custodian of the Great Seal. (The Great Seal of the Realm or Great Seal of the United Kingdom is a seal that is used to symbolise the Sovereign's approval of important state documents. Sealing wax is melted and a metal mould or matrix is impressed into a wax figure that is attached by cord or ribbon to documents that the monarch wishes to make official.) 


The Lord Chief Justice 



The current Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge is also Head of Criminal Justice and President of the Courts of England and Wales.

Key responsibilitiesUnder the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, the Lord Chief Justice has some 400 statutory (required by law) duties. 

His key responsibilities include: 
  • Representing the views of the judiciary of England and Wales to Parliament and Government.
  • The welfare, training and guidance of the judiciary of England and Wales. The Lord Chief Justice discusses with Government the provision of resources for the judiciary, which are allotted by the Lord Chancellor.
  • The deployment of judges and allocation of work in courts in England and Wales.He also:Sits on important criminal, civil and family cases. 
  • He gives judgments and lays down practice directions in many of the most important appeal cases.
  • Shares responsibility with the Lord Chancellor for the Office for Judicial Complaints, the body which investigates complaints made against judicial office-holders.
  • Is President of the Sentencing Council, the independent body set up to support greater consistency in sentencing.
  • Chairs the Judicial Executive Board and the Judges’ Council, two bodies which assist him in managing his responsibilities. 
  • Is also President of the Magistrates’ Association.
  • Is President of the Courts of England and Wales and may hear cases in any English or Welsh court, including Magistrates’ Courts.
  • He and the senior judiciary are supported by a team of civil servants who form the Judicial Office for England and Wales. 
The Attorney General 


Currently Dominic Grieve

The Attorney general is a Queen's Counsel (QC) and the government's (Crown's) chief legal officer. 

They are a politician as well as a lawyer and a member of the ruling political party. 

Normally their permission has to be sought to start proceedings for contempt of court, treason and other serious issues. 

The Hierarchy of the Courts:

A replica of the Hierarchy of the Courts from Mcnae's Essential Law for Journalists.
Magistrates Court: 

Magistrates are either qualified lawyers known as stipendiary (salaried magistrates) or lay people without necessarily having any legal qualifications.


Of all criminal cases, 99% begin in a Magistrates court, and around 95% of them end there.


Youth Court: 


Used to be called Juvenile court until 1991.


They are magistrate courts that deal with crimes committed by children and young people up to 18 years old.


They are not open to the public but journalists may attend.


A youth court consists of justices chosen from a special panel; there must be three lay justices and at least one of them a woman.


Crown Court:


The crown court system was created in 1972 to replace assizes and quater sessions.


The Central Criminal Court (the Old Bailey) is a Crown Court.


It trails all serious offenses, such as murder, manslaughter, rape, attempted rape, other sexual offenses, major fraud, aggravated burglary and some wounding offenses.


The Crown Court also hears appeals against sentences and/or convictions from magistrates court.  


Trial is by judge and jury unless the defendant pleads guilty; there is then no need for a jury.


High Court:


The criminal jurisdiction of the High Court is carried out in the Queens Bench Division and deals with appeals from magistrates and crown courts and writs for habeas corpus.
 (Wikipedia explains: It is "Latin: "you may have the body") is a writ, or legal action, through which a prisoner can be released from unlawful detention. The remedy can be sought by the prisoner or by another person coming to his aid. Habeas corpus originated in the English legal system, but it is now available in many nations. It has historically been an important legal instrument safeguarding individual freedom against arbitrary state action. It is a writ requiring a person to be brought before a judge.")


The High Court has three divisions and unlimited jurisdiction, and is staffed by High Court judges. 


Chancery Division: Hears cases relating to copy right, companies, trusts, land law, wills, tax and parnerships. 


Family Division: Hears cases over issues involving marriage, divorce, claims involving children and admiralty matters (hence the slogan Wives, Wills and Wrecks). 


Queens Bench Division: Journalists involved in actions for defamation or libel (malicious falsehood) will appear in the Queens Bench Division. The most serious civil claims are heard here.



The Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) 


Appeals against sentences and/or convictions can also be heard by the criminal division of the Court of Appeal, though these are usually restricted to questions of law rather than of fact. 


The court also deals with appeals of contempt of court. 


It is staffed by the Lord justices of Appeal.  


The Court of Appeal (Civil Division) 


Appeals from the High Court and County Courts are heard here. It is the final court of appeal for the granting or refusal of injunctions.


House of Lords


The highest court of appeal in the United Kingdom. 


Hearings are solely with cases involving cases questions of law of public importance.   


Hearings by the law Lords are concerned with questions of law of public importance.


County Courts


Have existed since 1846, but have nothing to do with counties as such. 


They deal with cases involving contracts and civil matters where the sum of damages being cliamed is less than £50, 000. 


The Small Claims Court is part of the County Courts and deals with claims of under £3000 -their purpose is speed and informality. 


A coroner is a government official who: 
  • Investigates human deaths and determines the cause of death. 
  • Issues death certificates.
  • Maintains death records.
  • Responds to deaths in mass disasters.
  • Identifies unknown dead.
Other functions depending on local lawsLocal laws define the deaths a coroner must investigate, but most often include those that are sudden, unexpected, and have no attending physician—and deaths that are suspicious or violent.

Employment tribunal/Industrial Tribunal

Employment Tribunals hear claims about matters to do with employment, such as: 
  • Unfair dismissal
  • Redundancy payments and discrimination.
  • Deal with a range of claims relating to wages and other payments.
  • Sexual/racial discrimination.
You can get a full list, called a jurisdiction list, from any local tribunal office. 

They are not courts as such, but do have extensive powers.  


they are usualy open to the public and media. 


Other tribunals include lands tribunal, industrial injuries board, pensions board and tax commissioners.


Legal Professions: 


Solicitors: 


Lawyers are either solicitors or barristers (and occasionally both). 


The public deal with solicitors directly, and they are instructed by their clients directly. 


Distinction between the two is becoming increasingly blurred, solicitors tend to deal with non-litigious matters, such as the drafting of wills and administration of estates.  


They do not have the general right of appearance in all the courts, and are controlled by the law society.  


Barristers: 


Advice on law and are advocates in the higher courts, where they wear wigs and gowns (Solicitor advocates wear gowns but not wigs). 


Barristers are not employed by the public directly, they are employed through solicitors. 

Freedom of Information: 
Heather Brooke. 
The Freedom Of information Act was first suggested in Labour’s manifesto back in 1997 claiming it would give the public access to all information relating to public bodies. 

The concept was passed in 2000 but the full provisions of the act didn’t come to fruition until 2005. A second freedom of information law exists in Scotland which was exacted by the Scottish Parliament in 2002 to only cover public bodies within Scottish jurisdiction.

Journalists such as Heather Brooke have notably exploited the act in the past to reveal shocking information about leading figures among the public sector. 

Heather Brooke started to enquire into the details of MP’s expenses way back in 2004 where her queries were rejected for being too un-specific via the House of Commons Freedom of Information Officer, Bob Castle. 

But in 2005, when The Freedom of Information Act 2000, came into full force it allowed members of the public to request the disclosure of specific information from public organizations giving Brooke a clear path forwards.

Brooke’s investigation into the expenses of MP’s showed how Journalism can successfully utilize the FOI act to find out news worthy information but it also highlighted the cynicism and rejection in which public bodies can throw towards inquisitive requests. 

Tony Blair called the Freedom Of Information Act his biggest mistake as PM because it wasnt being used by the people but by journalists as a weapon.

Media Law In the News: 
Manchester United footballer Rio Ferdinand leaves the High Court on July 5, 2011.
In the latest legal skirmish between celebrities claiming a right to privacy over newspapers standing behind the principle of a free press comes in form England footballer Rio Ferdinand.

The married father-of-three's case against the publishers of the Sunday Mirror relates to an article about an affair that apparently lasted 13 years; It appeared in the newspaper on April 25 last year.

Ferdinand's barrister told the judge that the action was being taken over the misuse of private information.

The Mirror Group argues that it was in the public interest to reveal the relationship, given his prominent standing in the national game, as well as saying Ferdinand's attitude to the article is not consistent with his approach to previous articles about his sex life.

The case follows the scandal around Ferdinand's England defensive partner - and rival for the team captaincy - John Terry, who last year saw a superinjunction banning publication of details about his affair with a former teammate's girlfriend lifted.

For more information on judiciary visit their website

In Class test: 24th November.