Canada's court system

Region: Ontario Answer # 714


What is the role of Canadian courts?

The role of the Canadian court is to administer justice by resolving disputes between individuals, and individuals and the state, fairly and in accordance with Canada’s legal and constitutional structure. This is done by:

  • interpreting and setting laws
  • interpreting and applying the Constitution

Canada’s judicial system – the courts of law – is run by the federal, provincial and territorial governments. While each province and territory have its own courts, the Supreme Court of Canada presides over the entire system.

canada courts


Federal Level Courts

The federal government is responsible for the following:

  • The Supreme Court of Canada
  • The Federal Court
  • The Tax Court
  • The Federal Court of Appeal

The Supreme Court of Canada

  • Canada’s final court of appeal
  • consists of nine judges, including the Chief Justice of Canada
  • hears appeals from decisions from the Federal Court of Appeal, and from all provincial and territorial appeal courts
  • Supreme Court judgments are final
  • decides legal issues of public importance, such as those concerning the Constitution

The Federal Court

  • most commonly deals with cases involving intellectual property, maritime law, federal–provincial disputes, and terrorism related civil cases

The Tax Court

  • specializes in hearing appeals from tax assessments

The Federal Court of Appeal

  • reviews the decisions of both the Federal and the Tax courts


Provincial and Territorial Level Courts

The provinces and territories are responsible for the civil and criminal provincial courts in their jurisdiction. Each province, except for Nunavut, has three levels:

  1. Provincial and territorial courts
  2. Superior courts
  3. Appeal courts

The Nunavut Court of Justice has a single-level trial court which combines the authority of the Superior Trial court and the Territorial court, allowing the same judge to hear all cases.

Provincial and Territorial Courts

  • known as “lower” courts
  • appoints the judges for its own courts
  • can include specialized courts (e.g. youth courts, family courts, and small claims courts) that handle:
    • all but the most serious criminal offences,
    • cases related to money, up-to a certain amount set by the province or territory,
    • family law matters, such as child support and child protection (but not divorce)
    • small claims, and
    • all preliminary inquiries, which are hearings to determine whether there is enough evidence to move forward with a full trial in serious criminal cases.

Superior Courts

  • highest level of courts in a province or territory
  • try the most serious criminal and civil cases
  • depending on province or territory are called the Supreme Court, the Court of Queen’s Bench, or the Superior Court of Justice
  • hear appeals from provincial and territorial courts
  • judges are appointed and paid for by the federal government

Appeal Courts

  • hear civil and criminal appeals from the superior trial courts
  • may include commercial and property disputes, corporate reorganizations, negligence claims, family disputes, and bankruptcies
  • appeals are usually heard by a panel of three judges

For more information regarding how Canada’s system of justice and the courts work, visit Canada’s Department of Justice at justice.gc.ca, or refer to your provincial or territorial justice department.

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