Image of the Ninth Circuit U.S. Courthouse in San Francisco

The meaning of “court” seems straightforward: shorthand for “courthouse,” a place—usually a building—where adjudication happens. However, some countries hold “court” outdoors or in mobile courthouses. Judicial systems may have courts and tribunals that serve the same function, and in many countries, adjudication is a component of the work done by an administrative agency or state council.

The term “court” may also describe a collection of judges who do not necessarily work in the same building. But, in many regions, a single judge is the entire court. And some countries use the term “court” to describe not only judges, but also the various personnel who provide legal and administrative services. Some countries have a court with departments or chambers; different judges may be assigned to each chamber. For example, in the International Criminal Court, there is a Pre-Trial Chamber, and Kosovo has temporary “Specialist Chambers” staffed by international judges.

Some types of courts are unique to a country. In other cases, a similar court title may be used to designate a different type of jurisdiction, level of review, or scope of authority. Variations in court names can become confusing when interpreted differently by translators.

  • In some countries (e.g., Egypt, Haiti, and Italy), the highest or supreme court is referred to as the court of cassation. Armenia’s Court of Cassation is the final court of appeal for all matters except constitutional questions.
  • While constitutional questions in the United States can be heard by state and federal courts, many countries have specialized constitutional courts, including Albania, Austria, Lebanon, and Russia.
  • There are assize courts in Belgium and Cyprus which hear the most serious criminal cases. In France, the cour d’assises hears all felony cases with a panel of three judges and six jurors presiding.
  • Magistrate courts exist in many African countries such as Kenya, where they usually hear more minor civil and criminal cases. Magistrate courts in the United Kingdom only handle less serious criminal cases and cases may be presided over by trained, part-time members of the community.
  • The Sessions Court in Pakistan is the court of first instance for criminal cases. In South Carolina, the Court of General Sessions hears misdemeanor and felony cases.
  • Many countries have specialized tribunals, including courts for drugs, family matters, insolvency, intellectual property, juveniles, and tax.
  • Problem-solving courts broaden the focus and responsibilities of a court’s traditional role. Some are designed to address the issues underlying criminal conduct, such as substance abuse and mental disorders. Different types of problem-solving courts have been adopted in the United States and parts of Europe.