The Royal Courts of Justice

The Royal Courts of Justice (RCJ) deals with a vast array of judicial business. The information below will provide a better understanding of the work that each office within the RCJ has responsibility for.

A Brief History of the Royal Courts of Justice

The Royal Courts of Justice was designed by Mr J G West OBE and opened by His Grace The Duke of Abercorn, Governor of Northern Ireland, on the 31st May 1933.
The Chief Architect was Sir Richard Allison CBE, FRIBA and the principal contractors were Messrs. Stewart & Partners of Belfast.

Structure of the Court of Judicature of Northern Ireland

The Lord Chancellor made a commencement order bringing into force, on 1 October, those provisions of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 which provided for the establishment of the new Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. The new Supreme Court replaced the existing appellate jurisdiction of the House of Lords.

As a consequence of the establishment of the new court, the Supreme Court of Judicature in Northern Ireland was renamed as;
The Court of Judicature of Northern Ireland.

The Court of Judicature of Northern Ireland consists of

  • HM Court of Appeal
  • The Crown Court
  • The High Court

HM Court of Appeal

The Court of Appeal normally sits at the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast. The judges of the Court of Appeal are the Lady Chief Justice (who is the President) and three Lord Justices of Appeal. The Court of Appeal hears appeals in criminal matters from the Crown Court and in civil matters from the High Court. It also hears appeals on points of law from the County Courts, Magistrates’ Courts and certain Tribunals. A Court of Appeal case will usually be heard by three judges but can be heard by two. Incidental matters may be heard by one Court of Appeal judge.

The Crown Court

The Crown Court has exclusive jurisdiction to try offences charged on indictment. Offences tried on indictment are the more serious offences. Some offences will always be tried summarily (i.e. by the Magistrates’ Courts) and others (called hybrid offences) may be tried either summarily or on indictment.

The Lady Chief Justice is President of the Crown Court and the Lord Justices of Appeal, High Court judges and County Court judges all sit in the Crown Court from time to time, although directions of the Lord Chancellor restrict the hearing of the most serious offences to the more senior judges. The Crown Court normally sits at nine venues in Northern Ireland. Although part of the Court of Judicature, responsibility for the Crown Court lies with regional Business Managers.

The High Court

In Northern Ireland, civil justice is administered mainly by the County Courts and the High Court. County Courts deal with cases of lesser value, substance, importance and complexity, while the High Court handles more substantial or complex cases.

Where cases suitable for trial in the County Courts are commenced in the High Court, the High Court may transfer a case to a County Court. Similarly, appropriate cases may be removed from the County Court to the High Court.

The High Court normally sits at the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast. It consists of the Lady Chief Justice (who is the President), three Lord Justices of Appeal and ten puisne judges.

The High Court has three Divisions, each handling different types of work

  • Chancery Division
  • King's Bench Division
  • Family Division

The Chancery Division

The Chancery Division deals with four main areas of business: Chancery, Bankruptcy, Companies and Probate.

Chancery Office

The main area of business in the Chancery office relates to disputes involving land and property. These include: disputes between vendors, purchasers, landlords and tenants; mortgage actions; trespass; right of way; construction of a lease; and squatters. The Chancery section also deals with disputes involving copyright; partnerships; patents; execution of trusts; charities; inheritance; and the administration of estates.

Bankruptcy Office

The Bankruptcy Office deals with all matters relating to insolvency. This includes: statutory demands, petitions (by creditors and debtors), voluntary arrangements, and the administration of bankrupts’ estates.

Companies Office

The Companies Office deals with all matters relating to the Companies Order including: winding up petitions, insolvent partnerships, and disqualification of directors.
A public search facility is available to enable customers to conduct online searches relating to Bankruptcy and Companies cases.

Probate Office

The principal business assigned to the Probate Office includes Contentious and non-contentious Probate applications leading to the issue of a Grant of Representation in the estate of the deceased person to facilitate the gathering in and distribution of the assets of the deceased’s estate

King's Bench Division & HM Court of Appeal

The King's Bench Division comprises of a number of business areas namely: the Writ, Appeals & Lists Office, Bail Office, Commercial Office, Judicial Reviews Office and HM Court of Appeal Office. Collectively these Offices are referred to as The Central Office.

The principal business dealt with by the King's Bench Division is

  • Claims for damages
  • Medical Negligence actions
  • Commercial actions
  • Matters involving contract,
  • Personal injury actions
  • Appeals from the County Court
  • Judicial Reviews,
  • Bail applications,
  • Admiralty matters,
  • Injunctions

Each business area within King's Bench has discrete functions, namely

Writ, Appeals & Lists Office

The primary function of the office is to manage the `Writ Process' from commencement of proceedings until setting down for trial in the Appeals and Lists Office or determination without trial.
The Office is also responsible for providing adequately trained staff to act as Court registrars in all King's Bench actions and appeals.

The office also has overall responsibility for compiling the daily Court List. This involves, collating business listed across all the High Court Divisions on a daily basis. The Listing Officer must ensure that business is allocated to appropriate Judges and that adequate courtrooms are available.

Bail Office

This office deals with all bail applications, i.e. application to release a defendant from custody, until his/her next appearance in Court, subject sometimes to security being given and/or compliance with certain conditions.

Commercial Office

An action in the King's Bench Division relating to a `business or commercial transaction' such as building contracts, sales of goods, insurance, banking or carriage of goods may be assigned to the Commercial list, if so directed by the Commercial Judge. One of the ten puisne Judges has been assigned as the Commercial Judge. The Judge supervises the listing, interlocutory matters (matters which require to be dealt with prior to the full hearing) and disposal of those actions. A review of each action is held on a regular basis to ensure progress is maintained.

Judicial Reviews Office

Judicial Reviews are cases where the Court considers if the decision reached by an inferior court, Tribunal or public body or Government Minister followed the proper procedure.

Court of Appeal Office

This office deals with all work associated with applications made to HM Court of Appeal, listing of cases for trial and transcripts.

Family Division

The Family Division comprises of two key business areas, namely

  • The Matrimonial Office & the Office of Care and Protection (Children’s Section)
  • The Office of Care and Protection (Patient’s Section)

The Matrimonial Office & the Office of Care and Protection (OCP) (Children’s Section)

The principal business assigned to this Office is

(a) Petitions for divorce, judicial separation and nullity
(b) Dissolution of a Civil Partnership
(c) Ancillary relief applications
(d) Guardianship and Wardship of children
(e) Adoption
(f) Applications under the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995

The Office of Care and Protection (OCP) (Patients Section)

The principal business assigned to the Office of Care and Protection (Patents Section) includes the administration of Patients’ financial affairs and dealing with persons who, by reason of mental incapacity, require the protection of the court.

Official Solicitors Office

The Official Solicitor provides legal representation for persons under a disability; this includes both minors (children under 18 years) and adults suffering from a mental disability (known as patients).

The Official Solicitor acts as Controller and also acts as Guardian of the Fortune for a large number of children. This involves managing and being responsible for sums totalling in excess of £80 million.

In both patients’ and minor’s cases the Official Solicitor deals with conveyancing and can also be required to administer the estates of deceased patients. She also can be invited by court to represent children in Wardship, Adoption and Children (NI) Order cases.

In addition, the Official Solicitor may be called upon to represent minors and patients in cases where consent to medical treatment is required. Criminal Injury applications are also issued and dealt with by the Official Solicitor on behalf of both minors and patients.

RCJ Front of House

The RCJ Front of House Office provides a single initiation point for documentation across all the divisions of the High Court. The only exception being the Office of Care & Protection as given the nature and sensitivity of business in this area it was deemed inappropriate to delegate this function to Front of House.

The range of services available at Front of House will continue to be monitored and reviewed to meet the needs and expectations of our customers.

RCJ Administrator’s Office

The RCJ Administrator has overall administrative responsibility for the RCJ and is responsible for the delivery of the objectives and performance targets set out in the RCJ Business Plan. She heads the RCJ Senior Management Team (comprised of the RCJ Branch Managers) and works closely with the Court of Judicature judiciary to ensure courts run efficiently and effectively.

The RCJ Administrator is also responsible for the RCJ budget and application of NICTS Risk Management and corporate governance policies.

The RCJ Administrator’s Office

This Office provides administrative support to the RCJ Administrator and fulfils a wide range of other functions including:

  • Facilities Management
  • Security and access arrangements
  • Coordination of service improvement / customer care issues,
  • Coordination of Outreach activities (school & community group visits to RCJ, facilitation of work placements etc)
  • Budgetary Control
  • Co-ordination of refurbishment, cleaning and maintenance activity within RCJ
  • Oversight of adherence to Health and Safety / Fire Safety regulations
  • Car parking within RCJ grounds
  • Management of the RCJ messenger services

Office of The Lady Chief Justice

The Lady Chief Justice is President of the Courts in Northern Ireland and Head of the Judiciary in Northern Ireland. As President of the Courts in Northern Ireland she is responsible for

  • representing the views of the judiciary of Northern Ireland to Parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly and Ministers
  • the maintenance of appropriate arrangements for the welfare, training and guidance of the judiciary of Northern Ireland
  • the maintenance of appropriate arrangements for the deployment of the judiciary of Northern Ireland and the allocation of work within courts

The Lady Chief Justice is also Chairman of the NI Judicial Appointments Commission which is based at Headline Building, Victoria Street, Belfast.

The Office of the Lady Chief Justice provides advice and support to the Lady Chief Justice on the wide range of issues that come before her from whatever source. 

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