A court system is the full array of courts established in a country or nation. It is generally a hierarchical system, having several levels, at the highest of which is the supreme court of the land, which may in fact have the words supreme court in its name. A lower court is not only farther down in the hierarchy, but bears specific, designated relationships to courts that are above it. These courts that figure low in the hierarchy may be referred to as “lower” courts or “inferior” courts, or similar terms, depending on the country.
While the highest court of a country operates at the national level, a lower court operates on a more local level, the exact domain depending on the system. In any system in which there are trial courts and courts of appeal, when speaking from the perspective of the court of appeals, any trial court is a lower court.
In the United States, and some other places, the term lower court has an additional meaning. In many states, there are multiple levels of both trial courts and appellate courts. This means that within the trial courts in a particular state that has this division, there is a lower court and a superior court. Depending on the state, the higher trial court may have some degree of review of the lower trial court.
Additionally, within the appellate courts, there may be a lower and a higher court. In cases in which there are multiple levels of trial courts and or appellate courts, each type of court may have both levels. In this case, the term lower court refers to a court of the same type as the court that is being used as a point of reference.
In Canada, the equivalent of the US trial court is most often the provincial or territory court. It is the lower or inferior court. Similar to the case described above, it may be that the superior court of the province or territory has the ability to hear appeals, or appeals may be directed to the Court of Appeal.
The lower court of the trial courts is usually limited to hearing minor cases. Serious offenses are heard at the superior trial court. The authority of appellate courts varies depending on the country and the jurisdiction. Their authority determines their relationship to the lower court and the decision made there, as well as what sorts of appeals they may hear.