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In some countries, provinces and states, the highest court is called the
supreme court; for example, the Supreme Court of the United States. In most
states with constitutions, the supreme court interprets that state's
constitution. It has also been called the court of last resort as there is
no further appeal that can be taken from such a court.
Generally, the higher courts in an area create case law with their
decisions, or interpret codal provision in civil law countries to maintain a
uniform interpretation. Most common law nations have the doctrine of stare
decisis in which the rulings of the supreme court constitute binding
precedent. Most civil law nations do not have the official doctrine of stare
decisis and hence the rulings of the supreme court are usually not binding
outside the immediate case in question. There are exceptions. In particular
the high courts in Spain can create binding precedents if they choose to do so.
In most states of the United States, the highest court is called "Supreme
Court"; in others, it is called the "Court of Appeals". In New York, Supreme
Court is the name of a trial court.
The Supreme Court of Canada was established in 1875, but only became the
highest court in the country in 1949, when the right of appeal to the
Judicial Committee of the Privy Council was abolished.
The highest court in France for judicial cases is called the Cour de
cassation; the litigation section of the Conseil d'État plays a similar role
for administrative cases.
In the United Kingdom, there is no single court called the "Supreme Court".
In England and Wales, the Supreme Court includes the High Court of England
and Wales and the Court of Appeal of England and Wales. In Scotland the
Supreme Court is the Court of Session. Above these is the House of Lords the
most senior court (and also a house of Parliament) in the UK, though will
change in 2003 with the proposed creation of a true Supreme Court for the
In Germany, there is no single supreme court. Interpretation of the German
constitution, the Grundgesetz, is the task of the Federal Constitutional
Court of Germany. With civil and criminal cases, the highest court in a
hierarchy of appellate courts is the Bundesgerichtshof. The other branches
of the German judicial branch for social, labor, and administrative cases
each have their own appellate systems and highest courts.
In Australia, the High Court of Australia became the court of last resort
with the passing of the Australia Act in 1986. This act abolished the right
of appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.
In New Zealand, the right of appeal to the Privy Council has been abolished,
folowing the passing of the Supreme Court Act 2003.
In Hong Kong, the right of appeal to the Privy Council, was ended following
its return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. Under the Basic Law of the
Special Administrative Region (SAR), the Court of Final Appeal takes its
place. However, as the SAR remains common law jurisdiction, judges from
other such jurisdictions, including England and Wales, continue to serve as
In most nations with constitutions modeled after the Soviet Union, the
legislature was given the power of being the court of last resort, however
because of the lack of a strong legal system, this power was only nominal.
This has changed somewhat within the People's Republic of China where an
emphasis on constitutional regularity and rule of law has given the Standing
Committee of the National People's Congress of China some authority to
interpret law. As the court of last resort of the PRC, the NPCSC is also the
court of last resort for Hong Kong, a power that has so far been used once
in the Hong Kong Immigration cases.