Courts - criminal justice system
The court’s role is to ensure the law is interpreted and applied consistently across B.C. and Canada based on the written law (legislation) and cases presented in court. Courts must also ensure people’s rights and freedoms are considered and they are treated fairly.
British Columbia Courts
British Columbia has three levels of court.
Provincial Court of B.C.
Hundreds of people attend Provincial Court every day. For most people, this court is the face of justice. Provincial courts are located in many centres throughout British Columbia.
The Provincial Court has the power to deal with all criminal matters except murder committed by adults and certain other, very serious offences, such as treason.
The Provincial Court handles most criminal matters, including:
- Bail hearings
- Preliminary hearings
- All trials involving youth
- All trials of less serious offences (summary offences)
- Trials of more serious offences (indictable offences) where people choose a trial in the Provincial Court.
Over 95 per cent of all criminal cases in British Columbia are heard in Provincial Court.
The provincial government appoints judges to the Provincial Court of B.C.
B.C. Supreme Court
The B.C. Supreme Court has the power to deal with all indictable (more serious) offences. Since the Provincial Court also has jurisdiction over most indictable offences, accused charged with these crimes can choose between having a trial in Provincial Court or Supreme Court. Certain very serious crimes, such as murder or treason, must be heard in Supreme Court. Jury trials only take place in B.C. Supreme Court.
This court also hears appeals from Provincial Court.
The federal government appoints judges to the B.C. Supreme Court.
B.C. Court of Appeal
The B.C. Court of Appeal is the highest court in the province. Appeal court justices, who sit in panels of three to five, hear appeals of criminal cases from B.C. Supreme Court. Justices review the trial record and decide whether a trial decision was correct in law. Generally, no new evidence is given and no witnesses testify.
The B.C. Court of Appeal sits in Vancouver and, from time to time, in Victoria, Kamloops, Kelowna and Prince George.
The federal government appoints judges to the B.C. Court of Appeal.
Provincial Court also has some innovative problem-solving courts. They include the Vancouver drug court, Vancouver’s Downtown Community Court and the First Nations court in New Westminster. Each of these courts has been specially designed to deal with certain types of offences or offenders.
Federal courts have jurisdiction across all provinces and territories.
The Supreme Court of Canada is the highest court of appeal in Canada and the court of last resort. It reviews decisions made by provincial appeal courts, including the B.C. Court of Appeal, as well as the Federal Court of Appeal. The Supreme Court of Canada makes its decisions based on written and oral arguments of lawyers. It does not hear testimony from witnesses. The Supreme Court of Canada’s decisions are final.
The Court is made up of nine judges, appointed by the federal government and drawn from five major regions in Canada.
Other federal courts, such as the Federal Court and the Tax Court of Canada, review decisions made by federal government bodies, such as the Parole Board of Canada, and hear cases under the federal government's jurisdiction, such as intellectual property and maritime law.