Ian Watts – providing legal services in Gibraltar since 2002
Overview of Gibraltar Court System
The buildings which comprise the Gibraltar Law Courts – namely, the local Supreme Court and the Magistrates Court, are located in the heart of the Main Street – which is Gibraltar’s principal commercial high-street.
The Supreme Court house building was constructed in the early nineteenth century and underwent substantial structural renovation around 2009. The Magistrates Court building is contiguous to the Supreme Court building and has been occupying this building since around 2013.
In keeping with the traditional position in English Law, the Gibraltar Court structure draws the basic distinction between trial (or first instance courts) and appellate courts.
The local civil court of first instance is the Supreme Court which in general terms, shares a largely similar jurisdiction to the High Court of England and Wales. Owing to the size of Gibraltar, there are is no County Court structure as one sees in the England.
Local criminal proceedings being their life before in the Magistrates’ Court: however, the Supreme Court also possesses original jurisdiction in either way or indictable-only offences, and cases are tried by a judge and jury. In terms of trial by jury, the local Supreme Court possesses a largely similar jurisdiction to the English Crown Court.
General Jurisdiction of Supreme Court of Gibraltar
In general, the Supreme Court of Gibraltar is a court of first instance as well as an appeal court; it possesses a civil jurisdiction as well as a criminal jurisdiction and in the latter connection can hear appeals from the Magistrates’ Court by way of judicial review, by way of case stated or against sentence.
In some instances, the Supreme Court is a also court of appeal from decisions of, for example, the Employment Tribunal and a host of other administrative tribunals created by local statute.
Although the Gibraltar Court possesses a largely equivalent jurisdiction to the English High Court of Justice, there is no system of Divisional Courts as one sees in the jurisdiction of England and Wales.
Structure & Judiciary
In order of seniority, the Courts of Law in Gibraltar primarily consist of – a Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court, and the Magistrates Court.
Court of Appeal for Gibraltar
The Court of Appeal for Gibraltar was established under the Gibraltar Constitution in the 1969 (now repealed by the Gibraltar Constitution Order 2006). The Court of Appeal is non-resident and hears appeals biannually.
The President of the Court of Appeal for Gibraltar is The Rt. Hon. Sir Maurice Kay.
The Members of the Court of Appeal are the following: –
- The Rt. Hon. Sir Colin Rimer
- The Rt. Hon Dame Janet Smith
- The Rt. Hon Sir Martin Moore-Bick
- The Rt. Hon Sir Patrick Elias
The Court of Appeal is constituted by no less than three judges and hears appeals from the Supreme Court – thereafter, appeals lie to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London. There is the Court of Appeal Act 1969 which, inter alia, provides for rights of appeal and the powers of the Court of Appeal in hearing matters. The Court of Appeal Rules 2004 are made under s.8 of the Court of Appeal Act to govern, matters of practice and procedure as regards civil and criminal appeals.
Supreme Court of Gibraltar
Historically, the establishment of the Supreme Court of Gibraltar dates as far back as 1830 when Gibraltar was granted a Fifth Charter of Justice. Gibraltar’s first Chief Justice was Barron Field C.J. You may wish to read a brief article by Ian Watts in Linkedin on Barron Field: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/gibraltars-first-chief-justice-barron-field-cj-ian-watts/
In more modern times, a Second Statute was passed in 1960 (the Supreme Court Act 1960) to amend the law relating to the Supreme Court of Judicature in Gibraltar. The existence of the Supreme Court is also expressly mentioned in the text of the Gibraltar Constitution Order 2006.
Judiciary of Gibraltar
The Judiciary of the Supreme Court comprises the following: –
- The Chief Justice – The Hon. Dudley CJ (who is also an ex officio member of the Court of Appeal for Gibraltar); and
- Three puisne judges of the Supreme Court – The Hon. Mr Justice Yeats; The Hon. Mr Justice Restano; and The Hon. Mrs Justice Ramagge Prescott.
There is also the Registrar of Supreme Court (Mr Karl Tonna), who is also the Registrar of the Court of Appeal of Gibraltar; the Admiralty Marshal, Additional Stipendiary Magistrate and Deputy Coroner.
Cases on the civil side are generally heard by a single judge. In the criminal jurisdiction, cases are generally heard by a single judge and a jury.
- The Magistrates’ Court is generally presided over by a Stipendiary Magistrate or, in his absence, by two or more Justices of the Peace.
- The Stipendiary Magistrate is Mr Charles Pitto, who is also the Coroner.
- There is also Mr Karl Tonna, Assistant Magistrate who is also the Registrar of the Supreme Court and Deputy Coroner (see above).
- There are two legally qualified clerks who assist cases presided over by the lay members of the bench (Justices of the Peace).
©Ian Watts, Barrister-at-Law, 2017-2023. All Rights Reserved.