Queen's/King's Bench Division
The Queen's Bench Division of the High Court, established under the Supreme Court of Judicature Act 1873, took over the jurisdiction of the ancient Court of Queen's Bench. In 1881 it also took over the work formerly undertaken by the Common Pleas Division and the Exchequer Division of the High Court. Under the Administration of Justice Act 1970 separate Commercial and Admiralty Courts were constituted part of the division.
Much of the business of the division is concerned with actions involving contractual disputes and with the settlement of civil wrongs, known as torts, where although no contract is involved there could be a liability for damages such as in libel, trespass, nuisance or negligence. Motions to quash orders of any minister or government department under various Town and Country Planning and Highways Acts are heard before a single judge of the division. Proceedings under the Pensions Appeal Tribunals Act 1943 are also assigned to the division.
Sitting as a Divisional Court, that is a court consisting of two or more judges, Queen's Bench hears appeals from decisions of the Crown Court, other than on indictment, magistrates' courts and other bodies. Where wrongful imprisonment is claimed it is to this court that application is made for a writ of habeas corpus. The court may also review the decisions of public bodies and of inferior tribunals where an individual claims that that he has suffered an injustice.
If the court decides there has been an error of law or an excess of jurisdiction or breach of natural justice it may issue an order of certiorari to quash such a decision. It may also make an order of prohibition to prevent any future irregularity or an order of mandamus to compel an authority to perform a public duty. The jurisdiction to admit to bail any person awaiting trial on a criminal charge is also exercised by judges of the division.
Queen's Bench judges may be nominated by the Lord Chief Justice as judges of the Courts-Martial Appeal Court and petitions arising from the conduct of parliamentary and local elections, previously heard in the Common Pleas, are now heard by judges drawn from the division.
The division's principal judge is the Lord Chief Justice of England. Since 1879 its administrative work, including that undertaken by the Crown Office, has been incorporated within the Central Office of the Supreme Court.
Common Pleas Division of the High Court
This division of the High Court was established under the Supreme Court of Judicature Act 1873, taking over the jurisdiction of the Court of Common Pleas, the Court of Common Pleas at Lancaster and the Court of Pleas at Durham. In 1881, by an order in Council of 16 December 1880, the division was amalgamated with the Queen's Bench Division which thereafter assumed its work
The ancient common law Court of Common Pleas was originally the principal superior court having jurisdiction in ordinary civil actions between private persons. The senior master of the common pleas was also registrar of judgments under the Judgments Act 1838. From 1879 the administrative work of the division was taken over by the Central Office of the Supreme Court.
The Exchequer Division of the High Court was established under the Supreme Court of Judicature Act 1873, taking over the remaining jurisdiction of the ancient Court of Exchequer both as a court of revenue and as a common law court. In 1881, by an order in Council of 16 December 1880, the division was amalgamated with the Queen's Bench Division which thereafter assumed its work
Under the Administration of Justice Act 1970 a Commercial Court was constituted, as part of the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court, to take such causes and matters as entered in the commercial list. This list dates from 1895 when to speed the process of the law, two or three judges of the Queen's Bench Division were specially detailed to hear commercial cases because of their wide experience of such litigation.
In 1987 a practice direction led to the creation of an Admiralty and Commercial Court Registry which combined for administrative purposes the Admiralty Registry and the Commercial Court Listing Office.
Under the Administration of Justice Act 1970 the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division of the High Court was re-named the Family Division and all causes and matters involving the exercise of the admiralty jurisdiction of the High Court or its jurisdiction as a prize court were assigned to the Queen's Bench Division.
As part of the Queen's Bench Division an Admiralty Court was constituted for such business and the Admiralty Registry of the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division, with its registrar and marshal, was attached to it. The court's jurisdiction included the determination of claims arising out of damage done or received by ships and of legal proceedings concerning their ownership and salvage. Proceedings on indictment within the Admiralty of England remained triable at the Central Criminal Court, passing to the Crown Court of the Supreme Court of Judicature under the Courts Act 1971.
Crown Office and Associates' Department
The Crown Office of the Queen's Bench Division, together with the Associates' Office of the three former common law divisions of the High Court, became part of the Central Office of the Supreme Court of Judicature under the Supreme Court of Judicature (Officers) Act 1879. The Crown Office's principal concern is with hearings at nisi prius in the Queen's Bench and administrative work arising from appeals from inferior courts; it is also closely involved with the judicial review business of the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court sitting as a Divisional Court.
The staff of the Associates' Department spend much of their time in court ensuring that the judges' orders are recorded, administering the oath to witnesses and jurors, and seeing that proceedings follow the rules prescribed.
The Crown Office and Associates' Department is headed by the master of the Crown Office, who also holds the office of queen's coroner and attorney. He is also registrar of the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) and registrar of the Courts-Martial Appeal Court.
The master of the Crown Office is directly responsible to the Lord Chief Justice although his staff come under the control of the senior master of the Queen's Bench Division through the chief clerk of the Central Office responsible for staff administration.
District Registries of the High Court
To facilitate the prosecution in country districts of civil judicial proceedings the Supreme Court of Judicature Act 1873 provided for the establishment of District Registries for such proceedings as could more speedily, cheaply and conveniently be taken locally. Probate matters continued to be dealt with separately in District Probate Registries, first established under the Court of Probate Act 1857.
District registrars, who usually combine with their office the post of county court registrar, are responsible for issuing writs of summons and for entertaining proceedings generally in an action down to and including entry for trial. They also consider matrimonial causes cases. District registries have accordingly been established in the principal provincial towns of England and Wales, normally in the county court office.