he purpose of Canada’s court system is to assist people in resolving their disputes in a just and equitable manner. In fulfilling this mandate, the courts interpret and apply laws and address issues that impact upon all facets of Canadian society. With the exception of the province of Québec, which administers a predominantly civil law system, the provinces and territories of Canada have a legal system similar to those utilized in the United States and Great Britain, and administer the common law.
Canada’s court system is organized in a four-tier system. At the bottom of the hierarchy are the provincial and territorial courts. These courts hear cases involving either federal or provincial/territorial laws and deal with a wide array of matters including, but not limited to, criminal offences, family law matters (except divorce) and provincial/territorial regulatory offences.
Provincial and territorial court judgments are appealed to the provincial/territorial superior courts1. Superior courts have “inherent jurisdiction.” As such, superior courts are able to hear cases pertaining to any area that is not specifically limited to another level of court. Within the purview of the superior courts are trials for the most serious criminal offences as well as divorce cases and cases involving large sums of money. Appeals from decisions of the superior courts and provincial/territorial courts are heard by an appellate division or a court of appeal for the applicable province or territory. Constitutional questions raised in appeals involving individuals, governments or governmental agencies are also heard by the court of appeal.
Running parallel to this system is the Federal Court system. Both the Federal Court and Federal Court of Appeal are similar to the superior courts except that they also have jurisdiction over civil law. An important distinction between the federal courts and the superior courts of the provinces and territories is that while the former can only deal with matters specified in federal statutes, the latter have jurisdiction in all matters except those specifically excluded by statute. The Federal Court has jurisdiction over interprovincial and federal-provincial disputes, intellectual property proceedings, citizenship appeals, Competition Act cases and cases involving Crown corporations or departments of the Government of Canada. Importantly, only the federal courts have jurisdiction to review decisions, orders and other administrative actions of federal boards, commissions and tribunals.
At the apex of the court structure sits the Supreme Court of Canada. The Supreme Court hears appeals from all other Canadian courts. It has jurisdiction over disputes in all areas of the law including administrative law, civil law, constitutional law and criminal law.”
Contact: Aird & Berlis LLP