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HMRC internal manual

Debt Management and Banking Manual

Enforcement action: CCP: general: the county court

England and Wales

The legal system in England and Wales is administered through two types of court - the criminal court and the civil courts. Non-payment of debt is a civil, not a criminal, offence so almost all HMRC’s contact is with the civil courts. The first tier of the civil court hierarchy is the High Court; county courts are the second tier but many similar cases can be heard in either. The Civil Procedure Rules (the rules of court) apply equally in both. Debt technical offices will be concerned only with county courts.

County courts were originally set up in 1846 to provide the means for settling private disputes, usually about matters of money or property. Creditors use them to recover debts from individuals or companies who will not pay.

There are currently about 230 county courts in England and Wales, though this number is reducing over the next few years as smaller courts transfer their work to neighbouring larger courts. Some county courts do not deal with all subjects, for example not all of them deal with divorce or insolvency matters.

Each county court covers a geographical area known as a ‘district’. The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) defines the district and the area it covers may vary considerably, depending on the density of the population. Districts are grouped together to form ‘circuits’, each with one or more permanent judges.


There are no county courts in Scotland.

Northern Ireland

Whilst there are county courts in Northern Ireland, debt technical offices do not currently use them.