The Supreme Court in some countries, provinces and states, is that jurisdiction's highest court, the court of last resort — the court whose rulings cannot be appealed. In the United States for example, the there is a Supreme Court at the federal level and within most of the states. Some jurisdictions, however, do not call their highest courts Supreme Court, as noted below.

In most countries and subordinate states with constitutions, the Supreme Court interprets the constitution for its area of jurisdiction.

Many higher courts create through their decisions case law applicable within their respective jurisdictions, or interpret codal provisions in civil law countries to maintain a uniform interpretation:

  • Most common-law nations have the doctrine of stare decisis in which the rulings (decisions) 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. Exceptions, including Spain, appear below.

Table of contents
1 Common-Law Jurisdictions
2 Civil-Code Jurisdictions
3 Soviet-model Jurisdictions

Common-Law Jurisdictions

United Kingdom

There is no single court called the "Supreme Court": Above these are the Law Lords of the House of Lords, the most senior court, though this appears likely to change with the proposed creation of a true Supreme Court for the UK. For more information, see Courts of the United Kingdom.


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 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. Each state and territory has its own Supreme Court, which can lead to some confusion with young schoolchildren or overseas tourists (particularly those outside the Commonwealth of Nations). The term "Supreme Court" initially seems loftier than "High Court", however previous to the Federation of Australia, each colony had its own independent judicial system, with typically a Supreme Court as the highest court physically within colonial jurisdiction.

New Zealand

The right of appeal to the
Privy Council has been abolished, folowing the passing of the Supreme Court Act 2003. The new Supreme Court of New Zealand was officially established at the beginning of 2004, although will not come into operation until July.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong, the power of final adjudication, previously vested with the Privy Council, is now vested in the Court of Final Appeal following Hong Kong's reunification with China in 1997. Under the Basic Law, the constitutional document of Hong Kong, the region remains a common-law jurisdiction, and judges from other common law jurisdictions (including England and Wales) can be recruited and continue to serve in the judiciary (Article 92 of the Basic Law).

On the other hand, the power of interpretation of the Basic Law itself, being part of the national law, is vested in the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress of China (NPCSC) in accordance with Article 158 of the Basic Law. This has sparkled controversies in the Right of Abode case in 1999.

United States

The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest U.S. Court. Its jurisdiction over the constitutionality of Acts of Congress was unclear until it was asserted in Marbury v. Madison in the early 19th century.

While Federal law is applicable within Louisiana, its state legal system is as described under "Civil-Code Jurisdictions" below.

In New York State, "Supreme Court" is part of the name of various trial courts; each of them is subordinate to its respective Superior Court (and the Court of Appeals).

In most U.S. states, courts of last resort are called Supreme Courts; for details on the states that differ, see a separate discussion on state Supreme Courts.

Civil-Code Jurisdictions

The Napoleonic Code of France is the basis for civil law.


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 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.


The high courts in Spain can create binding precedents if they choose to do so.


The U.S. state of Louisiana's legal system is based on civil law, unlike the rest of the states. Nevertheless, Federal law is applicable there.

Soviet-model Jurisdictions

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.

People's Republic of China

It the People's Republic of China, an emphasis on constitutional regularity and rule of law has given the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress of China (NPCSC) some authority to interpret law.