On 1 January 1972 the Crown Court system was born, replacing assize courts. This was part of a complete restructuring of the local courts structure which saw petty sessions and quarter sessions courts abolished too. The structure now looks like this, from bottom to top:
Magistrate courts are at the base of the pyramid. They deal with the majority of all criminal (and civil) cases, estimated at 95%. These are the less serious, or ‘summary’ offences, such as drunk and disorderly behaviour, criminal damage or common assault, some of which can carry a prison sentence, though rarely more than six months.
Magistrate court records are not held at The National Archives. Search for these records at:
- the courts themselves (records are generally held by the courts for between three and six years after the case)
- the Courts and Tribunal Service
- county and city record offices (use our catalogue to search for records held by ‘other archives’, using ‘magistrates’ and either a city, town or borough as your keyword search terms)
Crown courts tend to be used for the more serious criminal trials. Crown court records are held in one of three places:
- At the Crown court itself – the courts keep their own records for around three to six years.
- The Courts and Tribunal Service – go to the Freedom of Information request section.
- The National Archives – Crown court records should arrive in our repositories twenty to thirty years after the case was heard but this is only sometimes the case. Use our Crown courts guide for advice on all Crown court records other than those of the Old Bailey, the most famous Crown court, also known as the Central Criminal Court.
Supreme Court of Judicature: Queen’s Bench Division deals with appeal cases previously handled by a lower court. See our guide to King’s/Queen’s Bench Division for advice on records up to 1988. For records since 1988 contact Courts and Tribunal Service.
Court of Appeal records can be for civil or criminal cases. For guidance on records of criminal appeal cases see our guide to records of criminal court appeal cases.
Supreme Court of the United Kingdom was established in 2009 as the final court of appeal and the peak of the court pyramid. It replaced the House of Lords as the highest appeal court in the land. For records of either the Supreme Court or House of Lords cases, contact the Parliamentary Archives.
The Find Case Law service provides public access to recent judgments from the England and Wales High Court, the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court and tribunal decisions from the Upper Tribunals. The service will be expanded to include more courts and tribunals and a greater range of judgments will be added. For more information see the website.