The trip to London is focused towards Criminal Justice and is my major in college, so lets discuss some differences between the courts in the United States and the United Kingdom. The courts in the United States are quite similar but a little different than those in the United Kingdom because minor criminal offenses and small civil disputes are handled by special magistrate courts in the United Kingdom. In the U.S. these cases are held in state courts almost exclusively.
There are about 430 Magistrates Courts in the United Kingdom. There is one in almost every town. The cases are heard by magistrates who might be unqualified law justices or qualified District judges. Each court also has a legally qualified clerk present to assist the magistrates. The magistrates in the United Kingdom may be just regular citizens who volunteer or can be District judges.
In the United States there are about 517 full-time and 42 part-time authorized magistrate judgeships as of March 2009. Magistrate judges are appointed by a majority vote of the federal district judges of a particular district. They serve terms of eight years if they are full-time and terms of four years if they are part-time. The magistrates may also be reappointed. Occasionally Presidents nominate magistrate judges for district judge vacancies.
In the U.S., at the federal level, criminal cases and civil cases are not heard by separate courts. At the state level, many states do have separate court systems for these two types of cases. Cases begin in lower courts (Crown Court in the U.K. and District Court in the U.S.) then move on to Courts of Appeals and are finally resolved in Supreme Court if necessary.
The U.S. does not have a "Tribunal System" like the U.K. does for certain disputes. However, there are niche courts for certain types of cases. One example is bankruptcy court is a separate type of federal court. In the U.S. parties can agree to submit to binding arbitration or mediation as a means of alternative dispute resolution in some cases. This is a less costly way to end conflicts and is less adversarial as well.
I am anxious to see the magistrate court in action while in London. I will be able to use my knowledge about the differences in the courts and apply it to a real life example while on the trip.