Appellate Court and Their Role in the Legal System

Have you ever been curious as to what happens after trial courts make their decisions? Enter appellate court: an integral component of our legal system which reviews and evaluates lower court decisions and rulings. Join us as we explore their roles, functions, processes and their role in upholding justice – let us demystify the world of appellate courts with simple language!

What are Appellate Courts?

Appellate courts (also referred to as appeals courts or courts of appeals) are higher-level courts that review decisions made by lower courts. Their primary function is hearing appeals filed by parties who disagreed with trial courts’ judgments or rulings; unlike trial courts that focus solely on facts of cases, appellate courts focus on reviewing legal errors that occurred during the trial process.

The Hierarchy of Courts

Courts within the legal system are organized hierarchically, with appellate courts taking precedence over trial courts. Below is an outline of this structure:

  1. Trial Courts: First instance courts serve as the starting points for legal disputes to be heard and decided. Here, they collect evidence, hear testimony and make factual determinations.
  2. Appellate Courts: Positioned above trial courts, appellate courts review the decisions made by trial courts to ensure legal accuracy and fairness.
  3. Supreme Court: At the highest level of the judicial hierarchy, the Supreme Court has the authority to review decisions made by lower appellate courts, and its judgments are final.

Functions of Appellate Courts

Appellate courts serve many key purposes in our legal system, so let’s explore them:

Error Correction

One of the primary functions of appellate courts is to correct errors made by lower courts. They review trial court’s decisions to identify any legal or procedural mistakes which may have affected case outcome, and take appropriate actions against any such violations.

Legal Precedent

Appellate courts play an essential role in setting legal precedents. Precedent refers to past court decisions which provide guidance for future cases; decisions by higher-level appellate courts can set binding precedents that lower courts must abide by.

Ensuring Fairness and Consistency

By scrutinizing lower court decisions, appellate courts ensure fairness and consistency in applying the law. By scrutinizing whether trial courts correctly interpreted and applied it, appellate courts ensure predictable legal outcomes are consistently applied across jurisdictions.

The Appellate Process

The appellate process involves several stages and follows a specific set of procedures. Let’s walk through the key steps:

Filing the Appeal

To initiate the appeals process, an unsatisfied party – known as an appellant – files a notice of appeal with both the appellate court and opposing party (known as an appellee) of his/her intention to challenge a lower court’s ruling.

Record Compilation

Once an appeal has been filed, the trial court records all proceedings; including trial transcripts, exhibits, and any relevant documents; this record is then forwarded to the appellate court for review.


Both parties submit written briefs outlining their arguments. The appellant’s brief presents legal issues and challenges to lower court decisions; on the other hand, an appellate brief defended that same judge’s verdict.

Oral Arguments

After reviewing briefs, an appellate court may schedule oral arguments between both parties and judges of an appellate court. At these arguments, each side can present its case before an impartial panel of judges who may pose queries to clarify or probe into specific legal points.

Decision and Opinion

Once the appeal and review processes have concluded, an appellate court issues its ruling. This may either confirm, reverse, modify, remand back to trial court for further proceedings or provide written reasons behind their decision. Furthermore, this court may provide written opinions detailing why its ruling has been issued.

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FAQs: Answering Common Questions about Appellate Courts

Q1: Can I appeal any decision made by a trial court?

A: Generally, only final judgments or orders can be appealed. Interlocutory or non-final decisions are typically not appealable unless permitted by specific laws or rules.

Q2: Are there time limits for filing an appeal?

A: Yes, there are strict time limits for filing an appeal. These time limits vary depending on the jurisdiction and the type of case. It is crucial to consult with an attorney or review the applicable rules to ensure timely filing.

Q3: Can new evidence be presented during the appellate process?

A: No, appellate courts generally do not consider new evidence. They review the trial court proceedings record to assess legal errors or issues rather than reexamine the case facts.

Pros and Cons of Appellate Courts

Appellate courts have both advantages and disadvantages within the legal system. Let’s explore these pros and cons:

Pros of Appellate Courts

  • Error Correction: Appellate courts provide an avenue for correcting legal errors made by trial courts, ensuring fair outcomes, and upholding the rule of law.
  • Legal Precedent: Through their decisions, appellate courts establish legal precedents that guide future cases, fostering consistency and predictability in applying the law.
  • Reviewing Complex Legal Issues: Appellate courts have the expertise to analyze complex legal issues and contribute to the development of the law.

Cons of Appellate Courts

  • Time and Expense: The appellate process can be time-consuming and costly, involving multiple stages and extensive legal procedures.
  • Limited Scope of Review: Appellate courts generally focus on legal errors rather than reevaluating the facts of the case, which may restrict the grounds on which a decision can be challenged.


Appellate courts play an integral part of our legal system, ensuring legal decisions are accurate, fair, and consistent with precedent. Therefore, by reviewing lower court judgements and correcting legal errors that have arisen through lower courts’ judgements or proceedings, appellate courts contribute towards justice being pursued in society. Understanding their functions and procedures enables us to navigate our way through legal mazes with greater ease while safeguarding our rights while upholding integrity of the legal system itself.

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