We recently caught up with Russell Michelson from Jezic & Moyse to discover the 5 critical differences between the legal systems in the USA and UK. This is what he said:


“The USA and UK’s current legal systems have evolved from the same common law. Both counties share similarities when it comes to proceedings, presenting evidence, and rulings. However, far back as the Bill of Rights being added to the US Constitution, certain distinctions grew in the legal systems of the two countries.

In the UK, the sub-division regions, including North Ireland, Wales, England, and Scotland have their own laws. In the US, there are both Federal and State courts. But, most courts in the different 50 states retain their powers and the federal courts may not have jurisdiction over some of their rulings. Various other key differences can be noted between the two countries’ justice frameworks. Here are some of them.


Judging Cases

The UK has specific courts that handle minor criminal offenses and civil disputes. These courts are presided over by magistrates that hear close to 95% of criminal and other cases. For instance, you may have Magistrates in Family Proceedings Court, Magistrates in Bankruptcy Courts, and Magistrates in Youth Courts to deal with underage offenders. Typically, magistrates handle cases in the city or county and are volunteers from the community.

In the US, there are distinct courts for hearing criminal and civil cases. Other than that, no other courts have been instituted. While the term “magistrate” is still sometimes used, it refers to an elected official in these cases.

In case of disputes, the parties involved have the option of getting mediation, instead of moving the courts. The matters can be resolved by agreeing to arbitration and settling the matter out of court.


Tiers of the Judicial System

Both countries have a three-level court hierarchy. The Supreme Court is the apex judicial body in both countries.

The UK has a Tribunal System where professional Tribunals have the jurisdiction to impose fines and penalties depending on the evidence and facts of the case. After receiving the ruling in writing, parties have the option to appeal to the Upper Tribunal and then the Courts of Appeals.

The judicial system in the US functions on the federal and state level. At the lowest federal tier is the District Court or Trial Court after which parties can move the Circuit Courts. State common law courts apply their respective state laws and are presided over by a single judge. You do have the option of moving the case to the panel of the state Court of Appeals. The state Supreme Court supervises the working of the lower courts.



Law professionals in both countries go through distinct training programs. In the UK, they are called a barrister or solicitor while the US has litigators and non-litigators. Lawyers who argue cases in court are called a barrister in the UK and litigator in the US. But, lawyers who manage civil matters are called solicitors.

According to their areas of expertise, solicitors or attorneys in the US can also be called “corporate” or “transactional,” such as real estate attorneys, insurance attorneys, family law practitioners, or mergers and acquisition experts. Accordingly, if you need help with, say, a DUI offense in Baltimore, Maryland, you’ll get the assistance of a Maryland criminal defence lawyer. But, if you need similar assistance in the UK, you would hire a barrister who specializes in criminal cases.


Training and Qualifications

Lawyers training in the UK begin their career in law by taking up a course at the undergraduate level. At this time, they choose their specialization and choose to be a barrister or solicitor. Having completed the undergraduate training, barristers commit to another one to two years of study, followed by pupillage in the barristers’ chambers. Solicitors register with the Solicitors Regulation Authority to complete their training.

Lawyers in the US must complete their three-year education in law school, which usually follows a four-year undergraduate degree. Then, they must pass the state bar exam to gain admission to the Bar Association in their area. Once the lawyer attains their Juris Doctor degree, they are free to practice law in whatever area they choose. For instance, lawyers must pass the Florida bar exam to practice as an Orlando criminal defence attorney.


Expunging Cases

UK law does not permit you to delete a court conviction from your permanent record. As such, there is no legal or formal process that accepts requests for deletion. All records remain in the criminal record system, though this lasts for a maximum of 30 years.

However, in the US, certain kinds of criminal records can be sealed permanently. A judge can expunge or seal certain arrests and convictions entirely, and once that happens, even the court or prosecutor cannot get access to the records. You would need the guidance of specialized expungement lawyers to make that happen.

The US and UK legal systems have different methods of how they deliver justice. If you have questions or need assistance for any issues you’re facing, it is best to work with an experienced attorney or barrister who is knowledgeable about how to navigate the systems.”

Who is Jezic & Moyse?

Jezic & Moyse is a full service law firm, with a focus on criminal defence. They’re run and staffed by 20 of the best practicing criminal lawyers in Maryland, D.C. and Virginia. They’re proud to offer a robust offering of passionate legal defences for you and your loved ones. Their attorneys have consistently been named as some of the best lawyers by Washingtonian, Super Lawyers, and more.