UK judicial system: Role of The Supreme Court

UK Supreme Court

UK judicial system

For historical reasons, as a state made up of several separate jurisdictions, the United Kingdom does not have a single unified legal system.

Instead, there is one system for England and Wales, another for Scotland, and a third for Northern Ireland.

In most cases, The Supreme Court sits above all of these as the final court of appeal.

Please click here to download The Supreme Court and the United Kingdom’s legal system (PDF).

Role of The Supreme Court

The Supreme Court, as well as being the final court of appeal, plays an important role in the development of United Kingdom law.

As an appeal court, The Supreme Court cannot consider a case unless a relevant order has been made in a lower court.

The Supreme Court:

  • is the final court of appeal for all United Kingdom civil cases, and criminal cases from England, Wales and Northern Ireland
  • hears appeals on arguable points of law of general public importance
  • concentrates on cases of the greatest public and constitutional importance
  • maintains and develops the role of the highest court in the United Kingdom as a leader in the common law world

The Supreme Court hears appeals from the following courts in each jurisdiction:

England and Wales

  • The Court of Appeal, Civil Division
  • The Court of Appeal, Criminal Division
  • (in some limited cases) the High Court


  • The Court of Session

Click here to download a factual guide to The Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court in Scottish Appeals: Human rights and the Scotland Act 2012 (PDF).

Northern Ireland

  • The Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland
  • (in some limited cases) the High Court

Please click here to download a full guide to appealing to The Supreme Court (PDF) or our Guide to proceedings for those without a legal representative.



Robert Williams

Editor in Chief

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