Courts and our Legal System

Court System

There are basically three levels of courts, similar to those described below, in every Canadian province: Provincial Court, Court of Queen’s Bench, and the Court of Appeal. Appeals can be made from a lower court to a higher court. There are also some federal courts that deal with matters such as citizenship and income tax. Finally, there is the Supreme Court of Canada which is the highest court in the land.

Provincial Court
The jurisdiction of the Provincial Court is determined by The Provincial Court Act and includes small claims, youth court and first appearances on all criminal matters. In addition, larger centres have Traffic Safety Courts presided over by Justices of the Peace. Provincial Court Judges are appointed by the Province of Saskatchewan.

In some judicial centres, child protection matters and certain other family matters may go to Provincial Court or to the Family Law Division of the Court of Queen’s Bench. Some judicial centres also provide specialized services, such as drug treatment court and domestic violence court.

Saskatchewan also has a Cree Court that travels to northern parts of the province, such as Pelican Narrows, Sandy Bay, Whitefish First Nation and Ahtahkakoop First Nation. Court officials such as the judge, clerks and courtworkers speak Cree and individuals may have access to Cree-speaking legal aid lawyers. The Cree Court sits and presides over matters within its jurisdiction just as any other Provincial Court.

Court of Queen’s Bench
This court can hear both civil and criminal trials. It is also an appeal court for some criminal cases originally tried in Provincial Court and small claims cases. With some exceptions, family matters generally go to the Family Law Division of the Court of Queen’s Bench. Jury trials may take place in the Court of Queen’s Bench. Queen’s Bench Judges are appointed by the Government of Canada.

Court of Appeal
This court hears appeals from the Court of Queen’s Bench. It is also the appeal court for some of the criminal trials which take place in Provincial Court. Court of Appeal Judges are appointed by the Government of Canada.

The reasons for an appeal from a lower court decision are limited to the judge making an error about the law. It is not enough that one or both parties disagree with the decision or that they disagree with the decision the judge made about who was telling the truth. An appeal judge can
only overrule a lower court if an error in the application of the law was made.

Federal Courts
The Federal Court of Canada deals with matters such as civil cases involving the federal government, as well as matters dealing with patent, copyright and maritime law. There are also some specialized federal courts, such as the Tax Court of Canada, that only deal with one area of the law. Appeals from any federal court are heard by the Federal Court of Appeal, as well as applications for review from some federal tribunals or boards such as the Canadian Human Rights Commission or the Immigration and Refugee Board.

Supreme Court of Canada
The Supreme Court of Canada consists of eight judges and a Chief Justice. It sits only in Ottawa. When a dispute involves Quebec civil law, at least two judges from Quebec must sit on the appeal.

This is the highest court in Canada. The decisions are final and conclusive. The Supreme Court has jurisdiction over civil and criminal matters throughout Canada. It also decides all matters referred to it by the federal government, such as constitutional questions. In order to be heard in the Supreme Court, it may be necessary to have a “leave of appeal” granted.

Usually leave is granted when an important question of law is involved in civil cases and where a significant sum of money is involved. In criminal cases, the appeal usually involves a serious offence and an “important application of the law.” Under the Canadian Charter of Rights and
, the Supreme Court hears many constitutional cases.
All other courts must follow the decisions of this court unless the Supreme Court of Canada itself overrules a previous decision it made.

To Consider

  1. The nine judges of the Supreme Court come from various regions in Canada. At least three must come from Quebec, and by tradition three come from Ontario, two from Western Canada, and one from the Atlantic Provinces. Why is this regional balance important for Canada’s justice system?

  2. Cree Court has many benefits. They include enabling the accused to communicate in a manner suited to their language and culture, encouraging community participation in the justice system, and incorporating traditional values into sentences. How does incorporating such values help build a safe and healthy society?

  3. Juries give citizens the opportunity to play a role in administering justice and the opportunity for those accused of a crime to be judged by a panel of their fellow citizens. Jury trials are not an option for every case. In the case of criminal trials, the option is reserved for more serious offences. Jury trials in civil cases are available when one party requests and pays for a jury. However, it is somewhat uncommon in Canada for criminal defendants or civil litigants to opt for trial by jury. What do you think would be the benefits and drawbacks to a trial by jury?

Our Court System at a Glance