The Supreme court reference article from the English Wikipedia on 24-Jul-2004
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Supreme court

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The supreme court in some countries, provinces and states, is the highest court in that jurisdiction and functions as a court of last resort whose rulings cannot be appealed. In the United States, for example, there is a federal Supreme Court as well as supreme courts within most of the states. However, some jurisdictions do not use the phrase "Supreme Court" in naming their highest courts, as described below.

Although some countries and subordinate states follow the American model of having a supreme court that interprets that jurisdiction's constitution, most (including all of the formerly communist Central and Eastern European nations except Estonia) follow the German model of a separate constitutional court.

Many higher courts create through their decisions case law applicable within their respective jurisdictions or interpret codal provisions in civil-law countries to maintain a uniform interpretation:

Table of contents
1 Common-law jurisdictions
2 Civil-law jurisdictions
3 Scotland
4 Quebec
5 Soviet-model jurisdictions

Common-law jurisdictions

United Kingdom

In England and Wales, the "Supreme Court" is not, despite its name, the court of last resort. The Supreme Court of England and Wales has three constituent courts: the Crown Court (which deals with criminal cases), the High Court of Justice (which deals mostly with civil cases) and the Court of Appeal (which considers appeals from both the Crown Court and the High Court). A similar arrangement is followed in Northern Ireland. In Scotland, there is no court called the "Supreme Court"; the High Court of Justiciary is the highest criminal court, while the Court of Session is the highest civil court.

Above all of these courts are the House of Lords and the Privy Council. The latter body hears a small group of cases: appeals from certain Commonwealth realms (in the sections below, one may take note of the several countries which have abolished Privy Council appeals), admiralty cases and certain appeals from the ecclesiastical courts. Most of the remaining cases are heard in the House of Lords. In both the Privy Council and House of Lords, the entire body does not hear the cases; rather, the "Law Lords," qualified judges, consider the matter. The current government has proposed replacing the House of Lords, insofarasmuch as its judicial functions are concerned, with a Supreme Court.


The Supreme Court of Canada was established in 1875 but only became the highest court in the country in 1949 when the right of appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council was abolished.


The High Court of Australia became the court of last resort with the passing of the Australia Act in 1986. This act abolished the right of appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

Each state and territory has its own supreme court, which leads to some confusion with young schoolchildren or overseas tourists (particularly those outside the Commonwealth of Nations) since the term "supreme court" seems at first to be loftier than "high court". However, previous to the federation of Australia, each colony had its own independent judicial system which typically had a supreme court as the highest court physically within colonial jurisdiction.

New Zealand

The right of appeal to the Privy Council has recently been abolished following the passing of the Supreme Court Act (2003). The new Supreme Court of New Zealand was officially established at the beginning of 2004 although it will not come into operation until July.

Hong Kong

In Hong Kong, the power of final adjudication which was previously vested with the Privy Council is now vested in the Court of Final Appeal following Hong Kong's reunification with China in 1997. Under the Basic Law, the constitutional document of Hong Kong, the region remains a common law jurisdiction. Consequently, judges from other common law jurisdictions (including England and Wales) can be recruited and continue to serve in the judiciary according to Article 92 of the Basic Law.

On the other hand, the power of interpretation of the Basic Law itself, being part of the national law, is vested in the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress of China (NPCSC) in accordance with Article 158 of the Basic Law. Some are concerned that this arrangement would amount to undermining judicial independence in Hong Kong. Such controversies have arisen in the right of abode issue in 1999.

Republic of Ireland

The Irish Supreme Court is the highest court in the Republic of Ireland. It has authority to interpret the constitution, and strike down laws and activities of the state that it finds to be unconstitutional. It is also the highest authority in the interpretation of the law. Constitutionally it must have authority to interpret the constitution but its further appellate jurisdiction from lower courts is defined by law. The Irish Supreme Court consists of its presiding member, the Chief Justice, and seven other judges. Judges of the Supreme Court are appointed by the President in accordance with the binding advice of the Government. The Supreme Court currently sits in the Four Courts in Dublin.

United States

The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest U.S. Court. Its jurisdiction over the constitutionality of Acts of Congress was unclear until it was asserted in Marbury v. Madison in the early 19th century.

While federal law is applicable within Louisiana, its state legal system is as described under "Civil code jurisdictions" below.

In New York State, "Supreme Court" is actually the lowest court or trial court for serious cases in each county; each of its districts is subordinate to its Appellate Division, and the four Departments of the Appellate Division, in turn to the New York Court of Appeals.

In most U.S. states, courts of last resort are called supreme courts. For details on the states that differ, see a separate discussion on state supreme courts.

See also:

Civil-law jurisdictions

Roman law and the Corpus Juris Civilis are generally held to be the basis for civil law. In the nineteenth century the Napoleonic Code was an attempt to codify this approach to law in many European jurisdictions.


France divides supreme jurisdiction into 3 entities:


In Germany, there is no single supreme court. Interpretation of the German Constitution, the
Grundgesetz, is the task of the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany.

With civil and criminal cases, the highest court in a hierarchy of appellate courts is the Bundesgerichtshof. The other branches of the German judicial branch for social, labor, and administrative cases each have their own appellate systems and highest courts.


The high courts in Spain can create binding precedents if they choose to do so.


The U.S. state of Louisiana has a legal system based on civil law, unlike most of the rest of the states; several of the states such as California and New York State have been under civil law systems in their history and these origins influence their legal systems to some extent. Puerto Rico while not a state is considered a civil-law jurisdiction. In all these jurisdictions federal law may override the local law in certain situations.


In Scotland, the highest court is called the Court of Session. There are some appeals to the Law Lords that are interpreted under the principles of civil law.


While the rest of Canada is based upon the common law, Quebec has codified its civil law sources in the Civil Code of Quebec. It is interpreted by the Courts of Quebec amongst which the highest court is the Quebec Court of Appeals. Unlike most other civil-law jurisdictions the principles of stare decisis do apply in Quebec and thus it is often called a mixed system (système mixte).

Soviet-model jurisdictions

In most nations with constitutions modeled after the Soviet Union, the legislature was given the power of being the court of last resort. However, because of the lack of a strong legal system, this power was only nominal.

People's Republic of China

In the People's Republic of China, an emphasis on constitutional regularity and rule of law has given the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress of China (NPCSC) some authority to interpret law.