County court

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A county court is a court based in or with a jurisdiction covering one or more counties, which are administrative divisions (subnational entities) within a country, not to be confused with the medieval system of county courts held by the High Sheriff of each county.

England and Wales[edit]

Crown Court and county court in Oxford.

In England and Wales since 2014 there is a single civil court named the County Court, with unlimited financial jurisdiction. Before 2014 there were numerous county courts, each with jurisdiction across England and Wales, but each with a defined county court district (which bore no relation to a county: the name "county court" is used for purely historical reasons). Today the court sits in many county court centres, currently corresponding to the old individual county courts.

County court matters can be lodged at a court in person, by post or via the internet in some cases through the County Court Bulk Centre. Cases are normally heard at the court having jurisdiction over the area where the defendant lives. Most matters are decided by a district judge or circuit judge sitting alone. Civil matters in England (with minor exceptions, e.g. in some actions against the police) do not have juries. Judges in the county courts are either former barristers or solicitors, whereas in the High Court they are more likely to have formerly been a barrister.

Civil claims with an amount in controversy under £10,000 (the Jackson Reforms have increased this from £5,000) are dealt with in the county court under the small claims track (sometimes known to the lay public as "small claims court," although it is not a separate court). Claims between £5,000 and £25,000 (£15,000 for cases started before April 2009) that are capable of being tried within one day are allocated to the "fast track" and claims over £25,000 (£15,000 for cases started before April 2009) to the "multi track." These 'tracks' are labels for the use of the court system - the actual cases will be heard in the county court or the High Court depending on their value. For personal injury, defamation, and some landlord-tenant dispute cases the thresholds for each track have different values.

Appeals are to a higher judge (circuit judge hears district judge appeals), the High Court of Justice or to the Court of Appeal.

In debt cases, the aim of a plaintiff taking county court action against a defendant is to secure a county court judgment. This is a legal order to pay the full amount of the debt. Judgments can be enforced at the request of the plaintiff in a number of ways, including requesting the Court Bailiffs to seize goods, the proceeds of any sale being used to pay the debt, or an Attachment of Earnings Order, where the defendant's employer is ordered to make deductions from the gross wages to pay the plaintiff.

County court judgments are recorded in the Register of Judgments, Orders and Fines and in the defendant's credit records held by credit reference agencies. This information is used in consumer credit scores, making it difficult or more expensive for the defendant to obtain credit. In order to avoid the record being kept for years in the register, the debt must be settled within thirty days after the date the county court judgment was served (unless the judgment was later set aside). If the debt was not fully paid within the statutory period, the entry will remain for six full years.[1]

Australia[edit]

County court is the name given to the intermediate court in some Australian states (e.g. the County Court of Victoria). They hear indictable (serious) criminal offences excluding treason, murder, and manslaughter. Their civil jurisdiction is also intermediate, typically over civil disputes where the amount claimed is greater than a few tens of thousands of dollars but less than a few hundreds of thousands of dollars. The limits vary between states. In some states the same level of court is called a district court. Below them are the magistrates courts. Above them are the state supreme courts. Some states adopt the two-tier appellate system, with the magistrates courts below and the state supreme courts above.

Northern Ireland[edit]

In Northern Ireland there are seven county courts, following the same model as those of England and Wales before unification in 2014. These are the main civil courts. While higher-value cases are heard in the High Court, the county courts hear a wide range of civil actions, consumer claims, and appeals from magistrates' courts. The county courts are called family care centres when hearing proceedings brought under the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 and appeals from the family proceedings courts.

United States[edit]

Many United States states have a county court system, which (least common) may be purely administrative (such as in Missouri) focused primarily on registration of properties and deeds or most often, may have jurisdiction over civil cases such as lawsuits and criminal courts and jails (such as in New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, etcetera) where trials from misdemeanors to felony cases are centered about a common jail system managed by the county Sheriffs departments. For example, in Texas, county courts exclusively handle Class A and B misdemeanors (these carry jail time as well as fines), share jurisdiction with justice of the peace and district courts on some mid-size civil cases, and have appellate jurisdiction from municipal and justice of the peace court cases.

With the growth of the largest cities, many large urban centers have subsumed whole or most of counties within the unofficial or official municipal borders, blurring the distinction between the types of government and their jurisdictions in the mind of the common inhabitant, but even television police drama's occasionally point out a county function (Coroners, Sheriffs, Jails, courts, probation departments) are different from a metropolis' police agencies, city governments, and district attorney's (prosecutors) offices (Politically elected or appointed in most of the United States).

In those states with an administrative county court, the body acts as the executive agency for the local government. For example, Harry S Truman was county judge of Jackson County, Missouri in the 1930s, an executive position rather than a judicial post. The County Commissioners in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts manage the county government, including funding civil and criminal courts, jails and Sheriffs departments overseeing said jails, as well as recording deeds, maintaining county roads and the like. In point of fact, each state has adjusted local governments powers and interactions to suite their own needs, so no one model is uniform even within the same state when the county is interfacing with a major city.

In some counties of Tennessee, the primary legislative body is or was called a county court, rather than a county commission. Likewise, five counties in Oregon are governed by a county court.

Municipal blendings[edit]

In the states that have a judicial county court, such as New York, it generally handles trials for felonies, as well as appeals of misdemeanors from local courts and some small claims cases. It is a court of original jurisdiction, and thus handles mostly trials of accused felons. The New York County Court "is established in each county outside New York City. It is authorized to handle the prosecution of all crimes committed within the County. The County Court also has limited jurisdiction in civil cases ...."[2] More specifically, the New York County Court is:

In New York City, the New York City Criminal Court handles such jurisdiction.[4]

Otherwise in the United States, the courts of original jurisdiction in most states have jurisdiction over a particular county, parish, shire, or borough (comparable area entities in the various states of the USA); in other cases, instead of being called "county court" they are called "district courts" or "circuit courts" with a hierarchy of state "superior court" districts up to that state's 'Supreme Court'. Multiple courts of typically limited original jurisdiction within a county are usually called "district courts" or, if located in and serving a particular municipality, "municipal courts"; and are subordinate to the county superior or circuit court. In New York, 'superior'/'circuit' courts are called "supreme court". The court that in other US jurisdictions is called "Supreme Court" is called "Court of Appeal" in New York, Maryland and the District of Columbia.

Ireland[edit]

Prior to 1924, the county courts were the main civil courts in Ireland, having jurisdiction over most civil matters, except for the larger actions which were heard by the High Court of Justice in Ireland or the assizes. Its jurisdiction was similar to that of the county courts in England and Wales. However, they differed from those court in their procedures. Claims were initiated by way of civil bill. Most matters were tried by a county court judge, and where necessary, a jury. The main administrative officer of the county court in each county was the Clerk of the Crown and Peace.

The Courts of Justice Act 1924 abolished the county courts in the Irish Free State and transferred their jurisdiction (together with that of the quarter sessions) to the Circuit Court. The Circuit Court is still based on the organisational structure established for the county courts and the main administrative officer of each circuit is now called the County Registrar.

County courts continue to exist in Northern Ireland. Civil bills are still used as the initiation document for Circuit Court/county court claims in both Irish jurisdictions, unlike in England and Wales.

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