Supreme Court of Canada: Year in Review 2018

Canada’s Final Court of Appeal

The Supreme Court of Canada is Canada’s final court of appeal. It hears appeals from the Courts of Appeal of all the provinces and territories, the Federal Court of Appeal, and the Court Martial Appeal Court of Canada. It is an independent and impartial institution that decides legal issues of public importance and helps with the development of Canadian law. It also helps make sure the law is applied clearly and fairly across the country. The Court deals with cases in Canada’s two major legal traditions: common law (based on English law) and civil law (based on French law, and applied in Quebec). Anyone appearing before the Court can speak in either official language, and live language interpretation is available at hearings. All of our decisions are available in both English and French.

The Court was an early adopter of electronic filing, which allows litigants to save money by printing less and allows easier public access to appeal documents by allowing the Court to post them on its website. The Court has invested in modern technology in the courtroom to ensure that hearings are accessible and, whenever possible, are live-streamed.

There are nine judges sitting on the Supreme Court, including the Chief Justice. There needs to be a minimum of five judges for an appeal hearing, but appeals are heard by five, seven, or nine judges (it should be an odd number to avoid a tie). Hearings normally last about two hours. Most are webcast live on the Court’s website, and can be viewed at any time. The Court sits for three sessions each year: winter, spring, and fall.

The Supreme Court is part of Canada’s judiciary, and so part of one of three branches of the state. The executive (which includes the Prime Minister and Cabinet) decides policy. The legislative branch (Parliament) makes and passes laws. The judiciary (the courts) interprets laws once they are passed. Each branch has a role to play in maintaining our democracy and the rule of law. It is important for courts, including the Supreme Court, to be independent and impartial so that Canadians can trust that judges will decide their cases fairly.

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