This report sets out a statistical view of the work of the Supreme Court of Canada in 2017 with comparisons to the previous ten years’ work.
The following brief description of the appeal process is provided to help explain the statistical charts and tables. The Court decides cases that come to it from three sources. First, in most cases, a party seeking to appeal the decision of another court (usually a provincial or territorial court of appeal or the Federal Court of Appeal) must obtain permission from the Court. Such permission, or leave to appeal, is given if the Court concludes that the case involves a question of public importance or raises an important issue of law. Second, there are cases, referred to as appeals “as of right”, for which leave to appeal is not required. These include certain serious criminal cases, for example, those where there is a dissent on a point of law in the court of appeal, and appeals from provincial references. The third group comprises references from the federal government. Federal references (which are counted as appeals as of right for the purposes of these statistics) require the Court to give an opinion on the questions referred to it by the Governor in Council. The figure on page 4 summarizes the progress of a case from the filing of a complete application for leave to appeal, a notice of appeal as of right or a reference to the issuing of a judgment.
The table on page 6, “Summary 2007 to 2017”, outlines the Court’s workload during that period, broken down into five categories.
The first category, “Cases Filed”, shows the number of complete applications for leave to appeal and notices of appeal as of right filed by litigants with the Court’s Registry each year. In 2017, 514 new cases were filed – 497 applications for leave to appeal and 17 appeals as of right, a decrease of 13% from 2016.
The second category, “Applications for Leave Submitted”, shows the number of leave applications submitted to the Court for decision, the number of leave applications granted and the percentage granted of the total submitted. As leave applications filed one year may be submitted to the Court the next year due to the time required for processing, the number of complete leave applications filed and the number submitted to panels will differ in each year. In 2017, there were 492 leave applications submitted to the Court for decision, a decrease of 18% from 2016.
The third category, “Appeals Heard”, shows the number of appeals heard each year and the number of hearing days over the year. In 2017, the Court heard 66 appeals over 60 hearing days.
The fourth category, “Appeal Judgments”, gives information with respect to the number of judgments rendered each year. The Court released 67 judgments in 2017. Of these, 19 were pronounced from the bench (“oral judgments”), with written reasons to follow in 3 of them. In 54% of the judgments, all judges agreed in the result of the appeal.
Since the Court does not always render judgments in the same year in which the appeal is heard, there is usually a difference between the total number of appeals heard in a year and the number of judgments rendered in the same year. There were 25 appeal judgments in reserve at year-end.
The final category, “Average Time Lapses”, shows average time lines in the life of a case at the Court. In 2017, the average time between the filing of a complete application for leave to appeal and the Court’s decision on whether leave should be granted or denied was 3.8 months. Appeals were heard 7.4 months after leave was granted or the notice of appeal as of right was filed, and judgments were rendered, on average, within 4.6 months of the appeal hearing.