Gibraltar has a unicameral elected parliament. Following the principles of parliamentary democracy, the legislature – renamed the House of Parliament following the entry in force of the current Gibraltar Constitution Order in 2006, passes all statutes for Gibraltar. European Union Law also has effect in Gibraltar as all relevant EU directives must be transposed into local law by the Gibraltar Parliament.
The judicial system in Gibraltar is based on the adversarial system of law and follows the three tiers of English legal principles – statute, common law and rules of equity.
The Magistrates’ Court deals with summary matters, both civil and criminal. It has a permanent Stipendiary Magistrate and lay justices.
The Supreme Court of Gibraltar enjoys broadly the same jurisdiction in criminal matters as does the Crown Court in England and Wales and its jurisdiction in civil claims is approximately equivalent to that of the High Court and the County Courts in England and Wales.
In addition to the Chief Justice, the Supreme Court at present counts with three additional judges, currently dividing between them the case load in criminal, family and civil cases.
The recently enlarged Courts buildings allow for the holding of more than one case in each of the jurisdictions as a result of which the current backlog of cases is being dealt with and cases are starting to proceed with greater efficiency.
An appeal lies from a decision of the Magistrates Court to the Supreme Court and appeals from the Supreme Court are heard by the Gibraltar Court of Appeal, which is usually made up of three Lord Justices of Appeal (most of whom are currently drawn from the English Court of Appeal). There is an appeal of last resort from the Court of Appeal to Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.
The legal profession in Gibraltar is a fused profession, meaning that both barristers and solicitors carry out similar work, with either profession being able to deal with a matter from its inception through to a court hearing. Barristers and Solicitors have organised the conduct of their professional services through sole practices, legal partnerships and other permitted forms.
Barristers and solicitors currently number approximately 120. Most of these were trained in England. The Admissions and Disciplinary Committee, appointed by the Chief Justice pursuant to the Supreme Court Act, is responsible for the discipline of barristers and solicitors.
Legal work in Gibraltar is diverse and, apart from the normal general practice associated with a city and financial centre, there is a strong Admiralty Jurisdiction and a large corporate sector. Many firms have associated licensed Company Managers for the provision of corporate services to their clients and / or licensed trust companies.