What is a High Court?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 30 January 2020
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A high court is an upper level court in many judicial systems. In some systems, a high court indicates the very highest level of judicial proceedings, whereas in others it may be only one branch of a top-level court system. High courts may also be called superior, supreme, or apex courts.

Judicial structures tend to have a clearly delineated hierarchy in order to ensure that cases are handled by the proper level of authority. In the United States, for instance, there are both federal and state court systems that divide authority by the type of case and geographic location. The top level of state courts is usually referred to as a high court or state supreme court, while the highest level of federal courts is the constitutionally created US Supreme Court.

High courts tend to have fairly narrow dockets; their action is mostly reserved for situations in which lower courts do not feel they can make a decision. Depending on the country in question, high courts may serve several functions. Some are known as original jurisdiction courts, where cases are allowed to originate. Others serve as appellate courts, meaning that cases are brought to them through appeals to earlier decisions in lower courts. A few, such as the High Court of Australia, serve both as an original and appellate court, making their case load considerably higher.


In many regions, particularly those where high courts serve as the highest point of the judicial system, they act as the final arena for appeals and cases. A high court decision, once rendered, cannot usually be appealed or fought except in extremely rare cases. This can be a positive or negative issue; while it provides a means of ending extremely complex and often momentous cases, it also creates an absolute ruling that can rarely be challenged.

Most judges that serve on a high court do so as a result of an appointment to the position. In the United States, appointments are made by congressional approval of a candidate presented by the President. In the United Kingdom, judges to the high court are appointed by the reining monarch under recommendations from the Judicial Appointments Committee. India appoints judges across its wide high court system through joint decisions made by the President of India, the Chief Justice of India, and the governor of the state in question. Even when the high court is not the top level of the judicial system, appointees to these positions are usually highly qualified and have many years of experience.


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