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Creating a modern court system

Despite the reform of the higher courts during the 1870s, the system of local assizes and quarter sessions had remained largely unchanged, though it had become prone to excessive delay. This was chiefly because the courts only sat at certain times during the year.

Royal Commission

A Royal Commission which sat from 1967-69, chaired by the leading industrialist Lord Beeching, recommended the complete abolition of the assizes and quarter sessions, and their replacement with a new system of permanent courts throughout the UK.

The Courts Act of 1971 adopted most of the Beeching recommendations and paved the way for a new era designed to bring greater efficiency to court hearings.

Old courts replaced

Under the Act, the old courts of assize and quarter sessions, along with other archaic courts, were replaced by a centrally organised crown court with a network of some 90 local courts throughout the UK to deal with criminal cases.

This left the system of county courts, originally created in the mid-19th century, to continue as a subordinate court, dealing with straightforward civil cases such as small claims, bankruptcy, divorce and personal injury.

New Courts Service

In 2003 Parliament passed the Courts Act which linked together the administration of all parts of the judicial system under a newly created body: Her Majesty's Courts Service.

In 2005 the Constitutional Reform Act provided for the establishment of a new Supreme Court, separate from the House of Lords, and the removal of the Law Lords from the legislature.

Also within Living Heritage

Related information

Historic Hansard

The House of Lords considers the Committee Stage of the Courts Bill in 1970


The House of Commons debates the Second Reading of the Courts Bill 2003

Did you know?

Lord Beeching was also responsible for recommending the reorganisation of Britain's railway network in the 1960s.