Federal appellate rules govern how a legal case is appealed to a national court. The majority of the countries throughout the world use one of three major types of legal systems: the common law system, the civil law system or the socialist legal system. Each of the legal systems provides for appeals to a higher court. The federal appellate rules differ for each type of system and may vary somewhat by country. Two of the most relevant comparisons that should be made among the federal appellate rules in the various legal systems is the process by which a case can reach the highest court in the nation for final disposition and the extent of the discretion that an appellate court has to review a case.
The federal appellate rules in the common law system provide for a specific order of appeals at multiple levels of courts. Cases are first heard and decided in lower-level courts. A party who wishes to appeal the decision of the lower court must appeal to the next-highest local or national court in the jurisdiction before appealing to the highest court in the nation. Federal appellate rules in common law countries such as the United States, United Kingdom and Canada also allow for de novo review of appealed cases, which means that the appellate court has the ability to review the entire case, not just a specific point of law.
The federal appellate rules in certain civil law countries, such as France, allow parties to appeal directly to the highest court in the nation. In other civil law countries, such as Japan, criminal cases can be appealed directly to the highest court, but civil matters must be appealed through a series of lower courts before they can be heard in the highest court. Additionally, in many cases, the appellate courts in a civil law country will have discretion to overturn only a ruling based on an error of law. This means that a party will not have the opportunity to introduce new evidence or facts during the appellate process.
The federal appellate rules in countries that have a socialist legal system, such as the People's Republic of China, entitle civil litigants and criminal defendants to one appeal even though there are multiple levels of specialized courts. For example, China maintains separate courts for criminal, family, civil, maritime, military and transportation issues. Many socialist legal systems also allow for de novo review of a case.