Until the first of April 2011 HM Courts Service was an independent agency of the Ministry of Justice, but since then it has been combined with the Tribunals Service to form HM Courts and Tribunals Service. The administration of the County Courts in England and Wales is performed by this service.
The services HM Courts provide to the general population and businesses in the UK are of vital importance. People need to be able to seek out lasting legal resolutions to seemingly intractable disputes.
For the purposes of the following information, the courts service will be referred to as HM Court Service because tribunals do not concern us at this point.
HM Courts Service was itself the product of the meshing together of the Magistrates’ Courts Service and the Court Service as a result of the provisions contained with the Unified Courts Administration Programme in 2005.
The court system in the UK is a complicated one to say the least, with a large number of cases being hard each week across the land. HM Courts Service has the job of trying to provide an administrative and support hub for this vast and interconnected system.
The service provides this support and administrative function for the Court of Appeal, the High Court, the Crown Court, the Magistrates’ Court and the County Courts.
The merging of HM Courts Service and the Tribunals Service creates a sprawling bureaucratic entity that spreads over 600 locations around the country. There are around 21,000 staff members operating under an annual budget of around £1.7 billion. The new service maintains the old accountability mechanism of HM Courts Service but adds a number of new features.
Like HM Courts Service the new service is an executive agency in that it is managerially separate from the rest of the Ministry of Justice and has its own budget. Because the service of HM Courts is deemed to be of such importance to the population of England and Wales, HM Courts and Tribunals Service is the only executive agency in the government to have direct constitutional accountability to both a minister and senior judges.
The new HM Courts and Tribunals Service is overseen by a board of non-executive, executive and judicial members. The new service is subject to a three-pronged accountability structure whereby the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Chief Justice and the Senior President of Tribunals must be reported to. The latter two officials have the power to terminate the new agency if they feel it has compromised their constitutional roles.
If this happened it is conceivable that HM Courts Service should be a single entity again.
Structure and service of HM Courts
The County Courts are only one part of the UK court system that HM Courts Service oversees. The County Courts take care of the majority of civil cases, although it can send cases higher up the chain to the High Court. Any decision that is made in the County Courts can be appealed against in the Court of Appeal. The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom is the final court of appeal with regards to civil cases in the UK.
Knowing the structure and the administration that HM Courts Service provides is clearly not the same as knowing your rights under the law or knowing what legal action needs to be taken in certain situations.