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The Supreme Court is the highest trial court in British Columbia. It hears civil cases over $35,000, family law cases involving divorce and custody, as well as serious criminal cases. The Supreme Court also hears appeals of Provincial Court cases.
There are currently about 100 justices and masters that hear cases province wide. Supreme Court orders cannot be altered by the Provincial Court. Only the Court of Appeal for BC or the Supreme Court of Canada can modify or overturn the decisions of the Supreme Court of BC.
In British Columbia, the court hierarchy has three levels, which consists of two trial courts and one appeal court. The first level, Provincial Court, is the broad base of the justice system, and as a trial court, it hears the vast majority of cases. In most criminal cases that go to the Supreme Court, a preliminary hearing is held in Provincial Court.
The highest court in British Columba is the Court of Appeal, which hears appeals from the Supreme Court. This court is exclusively an appellate court and does not hear trials. All courts in Canada must follow the decisions of the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court of Canada. Learn more about the Courts of BC.
Civil cases in the Supreme Court of British Columbia usually involve claims exceeding $35,000. Claims of $5,000 or less are heard by the Civil Resolutions Tribunal (CRT), while claims between $5,001 and $35,000 are heard in the Provincial Court of British Columbia – at Small Claims Court. The Supreme Court also hears cases involving civil matters such as bankruptcy, personal injury claims and contract disputes, as well as judicial reviews of administrative tribunals like the Worker’s Compensation Board. Cases of libel, slander and malicious prosecution are also heard in this court.
Typically, to start a civil claim, a plaintiff or petitioner files a Notice of Civil Claim or a Petition. The defendant or respondent must then reply in order to dispute the case. To learn more, see the Supreme Court Civil Guidebooks.
Claims at the Supreme Court may be heard by judge or jury, however most civil cases in the Supreme Court are heard by a judge alone. In either case, judges or juries will listen to both sides, weigh the evidence, and make a decision in favour of the party who can convince the court that their side of the case is more probable. The principle behind this is known as proving your case on ‘the balance of probabilities’. It is different from the type of proof required in a criminal case.
If a plaintiff is the successful party in a civil trial, the judge will award damages to the plaintiff. The jury can also make decisions on the amount of damages awarded in a case. If the defendant is the successful party, then the claim will be dismissed.
The SupremeCourtBC.ca website is the leading source of information for British Columbians who bring a lawsuit to the Supreme Court. The site includes 26 Civil Guidebooks for Self-Representing Litigants.
In addition, free legal help is provided through “Ask JES” a live chat service available weekdays from 11am to 2pm. During offline hours, users can submit questions to receive a response by email. Visit SupremeCourtBC.ca.
To learn more about advancing your civil lawsuit in Supreme Court, it will be worthwhile to read the guidebooks, examine the attached court forms, and review the referenced legislation.
In BC, both the Supreme Court and the Provincial Court hear family law cases. The Supreme Court hears cases involving divorce, adoption, and the division of family property. It also hears cases involving parenting arrangements resulting from a separation.
Child protection matters must be heard in Provincial Court. If a case involves guardianship, parenting time, or child support, these matters can be heard in either court.
If you and your spouse agree on issues relating to the separation, you can get a divorce without going to court. Even though disagreements are common, very few family cases go as far as a trial. The large majority of family disputes get resolved by an agreement between the parties – often with the assistant of mediaton.
Across BC, a network of Family Justice Counsellors provide free support to help couples reach agreement regarding parenting arrangements, child support and other family matters.
To learn more about your family law matter, see Family.
In BC, most criminal offences are heard in the Provincial Court. The Supreme Court hears serious criminal cases such as murder, manslaughter, aggravated assault, bank robbery, contempt of court, and major drug cases. These are called indictable offences. If a person is charged with an indictable offence, the case will go to trial.
In most criminal cases, the first court appearance is at a Provincial Court. At this time, the accused does not have to present any evidence. The Crown must prove that there is enough evidence to move the case to a trial. If it is an indictable offence, the case will be heard in Supreme Court.
Supreme Court trials are by a judge and a twelve-person jury, unless the accused and Crown counsel agree to a trial by judge alone. To come to a decision, the court considers the evidence presented in a case, along with statute law, the Rules of Court, regulations and case law. It is very important that judges and masters follow the law as set out in previously decided cases.
The standard of proof for a criminal case is ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’, which is the required baseline that must be obtained in order to achieve a guilty conviction.
To learn more about criminal law, see Crime.
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IMPORTANT: This page provides legal information, not legal advice. If you need legal advice consult a lawyer.
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