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Canada - Legal System

The Canadian legal system has four levels of courts. Each province and territory has their own courts which handle many of the smaller, local cases. Each province and territory also has its own superior courts which will deal with serious crimes and appeals of cases which have previously been heard in the other courts of the province. There are Federal courts which have similar powers and there are courts of appeal at both territorial and federal level. The highest court is the Supreme Court of Canada.

The basic provincial and territorial courts can be found in all territories apart from Nunavut, which has a Court of Justice. These courts can hear cases around both the provincial laws and the federal laws. You may find that there are different names applied to these courts but they have the same basic function. They will deal with the majority of criminal cases, some family law matters, juvenile cases, traffic prosecutions, small claims and some cases are initially heard at the provincial courts before being passed on to the next level. Some courts are designed to deal with specific types of crimes or criminals such as non-violent drug users and youth courts. Some provinces have set up courts that are designed to deal specifically domestic violence and crimes.

The superior provincial courts are also located in each province. These can be referred to as the Supreme Court, the Superior Court of Justice and the Court of Queen’s Bench, but their function is the same in all areas. They are permitted to hear cases of all levels apart from those which should be heard by a speciality court and in addition they will also deal with divorce case or those that involve a lot of money. The superior court in most provinces will have different divisions such as family courts and can be used as a court of appeal. The judges that sit in the provincial superior courts are funded by the Federal government. The provincial courts of appeal usually have hearings with three judges and often hear matters associated with the government.

The federal courts are considered to be superior courts but only have powers to deal with cases concerning federal laws. Cases at this level are usually trials and if there are appeals these are heard at the Federal court of appeal. The administrative base for federal courts is in Ottawa but judges are able to hear cases all over the country. In addition to these courts there is a series of federal courts which hear specific types of cases.

One of these is the tax court which deals with disputes between both individuals and companies and the federal government. Cases that finish here have normally exhausted every other option first. Military courts are there to deal with cases which involve the Code of Service Discipline. There is an appeals section for cases which work in the same way as a standard appeal court. Trials can be held by jury at a Federal level and those who are accused of serious crimes are able to have the case heard by a jury if they wish, although they can also choose to just have a judge hear the case.

The Supreme Court is the final stage of the legal process in Canada. It will hear appeals from all levels and has jurisdiction over every other court and all areas of the law. There is a Chief Justice who is assisted by eight other judges and these are drawn from all areas of the country. A case cannot simply go to the Supreme Court, it must first have been heard by all other possible courts. Not all cases can be granted leave to appeal although there are some cases where there is an automatic right to appeal. This court also advises the government on legal matters.

As both the US and UK court systems are similarly multi-layered, expats from these countries will find the system relatively easy to understand. Finding a lawyer to represent you is also a fairly easy task as there are numerous law societies in the provinces and serving the country as a whole that can help you to find a qualified and experienced lawyer in your area.

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