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Civil/criminal courts and tribunals

This content applies to England & Wales

Civil and criminal courts, the Civil Procedure Rules, and tribunals.


The criminal and civil court systems are separate, although some courts hear both criminal and civil matters. Civil cases are essentially about the resolution of disputes between private legal persons (ie individuals) and most housing cases fall into this category. They can involve a public body when acting in a private law capacity. There is a separate procedure for challenging the public law duties of public bodies called 'judicial review'.

Judicial review is part of what is know as public law and consists of an application to the High Court asking the court to review the way a public body has made a decision. Broadly speaking, the court will not decide the merits of the decision, only its lawfulness under public law principles, and the court can ask the authority to reconsider the matter. For more information on judicial review, see the section on Challenging local authority decisions.

In some areas of housing law, legislation has created criminal offences (illegal eviction and some offences related to squatting, for example). Unlike civil cases, a prosecution in a criminal case has to be taken by the police or by certain public bodies, where legislation allows this. For example, local authorities are able to take action against private landlords who have illegally evicted their tenants (see the section on Harassment and illegal eviction for more information).

A private criminal prosecution can be brought in certain cases, such as where there is a statutory nuisance,[1] or where a private landlord fails to provide information relating to service charges.[2] There is a different test of proof in civil and criminal cases. Civil cases have to be proved 'on the balance of probabilities' while criminal cases have to be proved 'beyond reasonable doubt'.

Civil Procedure Rules

The Civil Procedure Rules apply to both the High Court and the county courts. They aim to ensure that the High Court and the county courts operate the same procedures using the same forms. The overriding objective of the rules is to enable the court to deal with cases justly.[3]

The rules are closely linked to 'practice directions', which expand and explain the rules. Practice directions sometimes tell parties and their representatives what the court will expect of them and what they can expect from the court. Practice directions were published with the Civil Procedure Rules and supersede all previous practice directions, both local and national. Both the rules themselves and the practice directions that expand them refer to forms. Copies of new or amended forms required to operate the system have been published with the rules and practice directions.

The Civil Procedure Rules can be downloaded from Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service.


Tribunals operate in specialist areas of the law, generally dealing with appeals processes.

In November 2008 all individual tribunals were brought together under a two-tier system consisting of the First-tier Tribunal and the Upper Tribunal. The two-tier system is administered by Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service and each tier has its own set of rules. Each tier is split into different chambers with specific jurisdictions; each chamber operates under specific rules.[4]

From 1 July 2013 all the individual tribunals relating to housing sit under the jurisdiction of the Property Chamber.[5] The Property Chamber deals with all matters relating to:

  • housing (formerly under Residential Property Tribunal)
  • leasehold property (formerly under Leasehold Valuation Tribunal)
  • residential property (formerly under Residential Property Tribunal)
  • applications or appeals to the Land Registry (formerly under Adjudicator to HM Land Registry)
  • rents (formerly under Rents Tribunals and Rent Assessment Committees)
  • right to buy (formerly under Residential Property Tribunal)
  • mobile homes (formerly under Residential Property Tribunal)
  • agricultural land (formerly under Agricultural Land Tribunal).

Appeals against decisions made in the First-tier Tribunal are heard in the Upper Tribunal. Appeals from the Property Chamber are dealt with in the Lands Chamber of the Upper Tribunal.[6]

As an alternative to appeal, the First-Tier Tribunal (FTT) may review its own decision where:[7]

  • an obvious error of law has occurred, for example a factual conclusion was reached with no supporting evidence
  • reviewing a decision allows for avoiding an unnecessary appeal to the Upper Tribunal
  • the review relates to a decision 'on the matter' which, if set aside, must be either decided again by the First-tier Tribunal or referred to the Upper Tribunal.

An Upper Tribunal decision may be appealed to the Court of Appeal, but the grounds of appeal must relate to a point of law.

Appeals against Upper Tribunal's decisions on a point of law of general importance may exceptionally be made direct to the Supreme Court. These appeals are called leapfrog appeals and are permitted only if the relevant statutory conditions[8] are satisfied, the Upper Tribunal grants a certificate on application of one of the parties in the proceedings, and the Supreme Court grants permission.[9]


In Wales, the Rent Assessment Committees and Agricultural Lands Tribunals remain separate from the Property Chamber and their functions continue unchanged. The Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber) rules apply to Wales.

[1] s.82 Environmental Protection Act 1990.

[2] s.25 Landlord and Tenant Act 1985.

[3] Civil Procedure Rules, rule 1.1.

[4] Tribunal Procedure (First-tier Tribunal) (Property Chamber) Rules 2013 SI 2013/1169.

[5] First-Tier Tribunal and Upper Tribunal (Chambers) (Amendment) Order 2013 SI 2013/1187.

[6] Tribunal Procedure (Amendment No. 3) Rules 2013 SI 2013/1188.

[7] s.9 Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007; rule 55, Tribunal Procedure (First-tier Tribunal) (Property Chamber) Rules 2013 SI 2013/1169; R (RB) v First-tier Tribunal (Review) [2010] UKUT 160 (AAC); Point West Gr Ltd v Bassi and Ors [2020] EWCA Civ 795.

[8] s.14A(4) and 14A(5) Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007.

[9] ss.14A to 14C Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007; Supreme Court PD 1, para 1.2.17; Secretary of State for Work and Pensions v DL and another (HB) [2018] UKUT 355 (AAC).

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