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Middle English appel, from Anglo-French apel, from apeler


  • 1 : a legal proceeding by which a case is brought before a higher court for review of the decision of a lower court
  • 2 : a criminal accusation
  • 3 a : an application (as to a recognized authority) for corroboration, vindication, or decision
b : an earnest plea : entreaty <an appeal for help>
c : an organized request for donations <the annual appeal>
For lessons on the topic of Appeal, follow this link.


The specific procedures for appealing, including even whether there is a right of appeal from a particular type of decision, can vary greatly from country to country. Even within a jurisdiction, the nature of an appeal can vary greatly depending on the type of case.

An appellate court is a court that hears cases on appeal from another court. Depending on the particular legal rules that apply to each circumstance, a party to a court case who is unhappy with the result might be able to challenge that result in an appellate court on specific grounds. These grounds typically could include errors of law, fact, or procedure (in the United States, due process).

In different jurisdictions, appellate courts are also called appeals courts, courts of appeals, superior courts, or supreme courts.

Who can appeal

A party who files an appeal is called an appellant or petitioner, and a party on the other side is called a respondent (in most common-law countries) or an appellee (in the United States). A cross-appeal is an appeal brought by the respondent. For example, suppose at trial the judge found for the plaintiff and ordered the defendant to pay $50,000. If the defendant files an appeal arguing that he should not have to pay any money, then the plaintiff might file a cross-appeal arguing that the defendant should have to pay $200,000 instead of $50,000.

The appellant is the party who, having lost part or all their claim in a lower court decision, is appealing to a higher court to have their case reconsidered. This is usually done on the basis that the lower court judge erred in the application of law, but it may also be possible to appeal on the basis of court misconduct, or that a finding of fact was entirely unreasonable to make on the evidence.

The appellant in the new case can be either the plaintiff (or claimant), defendant, or respondent (appellee) from the lower case, depending on who was the losing party. The winning party from the lower court, however, is now the respondent. In unusual cases the appellant can be the victor in the court below, but still appeal. For example, in Doyle v Olby (Ironmongers) Ltd [1969] 2 QB 158, the claimant appealed (successfully) on the basis that, although he won in the court below, the lower court had applied the wrong measure of damages and he had not been fully recompensed.

An appellee is the party to an appeal in which the lower court judgment was in its favor. The appellee is required to respond to the petition, oral arguments, and legal briefs of the appellant. In general, the appellee takes the procedural posture that the lower court's decision should be affirmed.

Ability to appeal

An appeal as of right is one that is guaranteed by statute or some underlying constitutional or legal principle. The appellate court cannot refuse to listen to the appeal. An appeal by leave or permission requires the appellant to move for leave to appeal; in such a situation either or both of the lower court and the appellate court may have the discretion to grant or refuse the appellant's demand to appeal the lower court's decision. A good example of this is the U.S. Supreme Court in which at least three justices must agree to hear the case if there is a constitutional issue.

In tort, equity, or other civil matters either party to a previous case may file an appeal. In criminal matters, however, the state or prosecution generally has no appeal as of right. And due to the double jeopardy principle, in the United States the state or prosecution may never appeal a jury or bench verdict of acquittal. But in some jurisdictions, the state or prosecution may appeal as of right from a trial court's dismissal of an indictment in whole or in part or from a trial court's granting of a defendant's suppression motion. Likewise, in some jurisdictions, the state or prosecution may appeal an issue of law by leave from the trial court and/or the appellate court. The ability of the prosecution to appeal a decision in favor of a defendant varies significantly internationally. All parties must present grounds to appeal, or it will not be heard.

By convention in some law reports, the appellant is named first. This can mean that where it is the defendant who appeals, the name of the case in the law reports reverses (in some cases twice) as the appeals work their way up the court hierarchy. This is not always true, however. In the United States federal courts, the parties' names always stay in the same order as the lower court when an appeal is taken to the circuit courts of appeals, and are re-ordered only if the appeal reaches the United States Supreme Court.