Differences Between the American & English Court System

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Differences Between the American & English Court System
The United States Supreme Court is the highest court in the U.S. (Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images)

The American legal system has its basis in English law. The United States Constitution, for example, incorporates the British "Common Law" principle --- a system allowing court decisions to create and preserve laws. This principle ensures that all people are judged fairly in similar judicial cases. Despite this and other similarities, there are various differences in the legal structures of both countries.

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Supreme Court

The United States Supreme Court is a separate branch of government with final jurisdiction over all state and federal courts in the country. The U.S. Constitution established the Supreme Court's rights and powers upon its ratification in 1787. Britain did not establish a separate judicial branch until 2005. Traditionally, the House of Lords, the top legislative body, presided over judicial matters. Unlike the U.S. Supreme Court, the United Kingdom's court does not have the power to overturn policies passed by the legislative branch.

Legal Statutes

English laws are not officially codified --- published into acts. The outcomes of legal cases --- known as precedents --- establish future application of laws. Legal statutes are also published unofficially. The Queen's Office of Public Sector Information publishes a law library of legal statutes. Various commercial publishers also distribute books that compile legal statutes. Unlike Britain, U.S. laws are codified and often signed by an executive --- the President or state governor depending on whether it's a federal or state act.

Jury Selection

The English court system selects jurors at random. A cross-examination to determine their suitability is not required. Jurors are not selected based on their socioeconomic or ethnic representation. This type of selection is intended to form a jury that is "fair, independent and democratic," according to the United Kingdom's Ministry of Justice. The American court system, however, allows attorneys on both sides of the case to analyse and challenge the selection of jurors. The American jury is intended to represent a cross-section of society.

Criminal Cases

English criminal cases receive considerably less attention from professional judges. Over 95 per cent of criminal cases are tried in lower courts by part-time, unpaid judges who are not certified to practice law. Only the most serious cases are tried before a professional judge. Civil cases, however, are tried by permanent, certified judges. The U.S. legal system treats both civil and criminal cases equally. Criminal cases are given just as much priority to ensure that Constitutional rights are preserved. The United Kingdom does not have a written constitution.

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