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The inferior courts
The High Court
The Divisional Courts of the High Court
The Court of Appeal (Criminal Division)
Decisions of the House of Lords are binding on the Criminal Division, but unlike the Civil Division of the Court of Appeal, this court is not always bound to follow its own previous decisions. The court will probably follow decisions of its predecessor, the Court of Criminal Appeal, unless that would cause an injustice.
The decisions of this court bind all lower criminal courts and may bind inferior courts hearing civil cases. Decisions of this court are not binding on the Civil Division of the Court of Appeal nor is it bound by decisions of the Civil Division.
These courts are bound by the decisions of the House of Lords and Courts of Appeal. The civil divisional courts are bound by their own previous decisions, but the Divisional Court of the Queen's Bench Division (which deals with criminal matters) is not so strictly held to its previous decisions. Decisions of the Divisional Court are binding on judges of the same division of the High Court sitting alone, and on the inferior courts.
Decisions of cases of first instances, where the judge sits alone, are binding on the inferior courts but are not binding on other High Court judges. A previous decision of a High Court judge will be treated as a persuasive precedent but will not be binding in other High Court cases. It is suggested that this also applies to High Court judges sitting in the Crown Court, but does not apply to Circuit judges or Recorders, and they would be bound by previous decisions of a High Court judge. Decisions of the House of Lords, Courts of Appeal and Divisional Courts of the High Court are binding on these courts.
The county courts and the magistrates' courts are bound by decisions of the superior courts. The inferior courts are not bound by their own decisions as they cannot create a precedent.
Continental systems are sometimes known as codified legal systems. They have resulted from attempts by governments to produce a set of codes to govern every legal aspect of a citizen's life. Thus it was necessary for the legislators to speculate quite comprehensively about human behavior rather than simply looking at previous cases. In codifying their legal systems, many countries have looked to the examples of Revolutionary and Napoleonic France, whose legislators wanted to break with previous case law, which had often produced corrupt and biased judgments, and to apply new egalitarian (уравнительный) social theories to the law. Nineteenth century Europe also saw the decline of several multi-ethnic empires and the rise of nationalism. The lawmakers of new nations sometimes wanted to show that the legal rights of their citizens originated in the state, not in local customs, and thus it was the state that was to make law, not the courts. In order to separate the roles of the legislature and judiciary, it was necessary to make laws that were clear and comprehensive. The lawmakers were often influenced by the model of the canon law of the Roman Catholic Church, but the most important models were the codes produced in the seventh century under the direction of the Roman Emperor Justinian. His aim had been to eliminate the confusion of centuries of inconsistent lawmaking by formulating a comprehensive system that would entirely replace existing law. Versions of Roman law had long influenced many parts of Europe, including the case law traditions of Scotland, but had little impact on English law.
It is important not to exaggerate the differences between these two traditions of law. For one thing, many case law systems, such as California's, have areas of law that have been comprehensively codified. For another, many countries can be said to have belonged to the Roman tradition long before codifying their laws, and large uncodified—perhaps uncodifiable—areas of the law still remain. French public law has never been codified, and French courts have produced a great deal of case law in interpreting codes that become out of date because of social change. The clear distinction between legislature and judiciary has weakened in many countries; including Germany, France and Italy, where courts are able to challenge the constitutional legality of a law made by parliament.
Despite this, it is also important not to exaggerate similarities among systems within the Continental tradition. For example, while adopting some French ideas, such as separation of the legislature and judiciary, the late nineteenth century codifiers of German law aimed at conserving customs and traditions peculiar to German history.Canon law had a stronger influence in countries with a less secular ideology than France, such as Spain.
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