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The topics in the Dial-A-Law series provide general information on a wide variety of legal issues in the Province of Alberta. This service is provided by Calgary Legal Guidance funded in part by the Alberta Law Foundation.
This topic will discuss the basic points of the Alberta Court system. In Alberta the Court system includes three levels of Courts:
- Provincial Court:
- Criminal Division
- Family Youth Division
- Civil Division
- Traffic Division
- Court of Queen’s Bench
- Court of Appeal, and the
There is also the Federal Court that deals with matters outside the territorial jurisdiction of Alberta.
The Provincial Court of Alberta is located in most towns and cities of Alberta. You will find all Divisions of Provincial Court on a permanent basis in most major cities and in various smaller centres on a periodic basis as part of a circuit. Check the blue pages of your telephone directory for the location of any of the divisions of Provincial Court nearest you.
The largest division of the Provincial Court is the Criminal Division because most criminal charges are prosecuted or heard in Provincial Court. Provincial Court is where all first appearances for criminal charges begin. All accused must appear in Provincial Court. If the accused is held in custody, a bail hearing is held at the Provincial Court where a Judge decides whether the accused ought to be kept in custody or released until their trial.
All minor or summary, or less serious, conviction offences are prosecuted in Provincial Court. For indictable (a crime for which judge may rule that there are enough evidences to charge the culprit or the defendant with serious punishment that may extend to imprisonment) or more serious criminal charges such as murder, the prosecution is done through the Court of Queen’s Bench. Sometimes the criminal offence can be prosecuted as summary or indictable and the accused is given an election to be prosecuted either in the Provincial Court or in the Court of Queen’s Bench. If the accused elects to be prosecuted in the Court of Queen’s Bench, a Provincial Court Judge who will first hold a preliminary inquiry to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to warrant holding a trial at all.
The next largest division of Provincial Court is the Family & Youth Division. Family Court and Youth Court cannot grant divorces but it does deal with a wide variety of family issues such as Custody and Access Orders, Maintenance & Child Welfare. Many of these applications can be handled without lawyers. The Youth Court deals with young offenders between the ages of 12 and 17 years. In exceptional cases, a young offender may be tried as an adult in the Court of Queen’s Bench or the Provincial Court, Criminal Division.
The next division of Provincial Court is the Civil Division. The Civil Division Court hears civil claims that involve amounts of money of $50,000 or less. A claim involving an amount over $50,000 is heard in the Court of Queen’s Bench. If a person has a claim in excess of $50,000 they may still proceed with their action in Provincial Court; however they will be limited to recovering a maximum of $50,000. A person is entitled to be represented by a lawyer or an agent in Provincial Court, but only a lawyer can represent a person in the Court of Queen’s Bench. An individual may represent themselves at any time in either Court.
The last division of Provincial Court is the Traffic Division. The Traffic Court division deals with traffic violations and breaches of municipal bylaws.
The Court of Queen’s Bench is the superior Court in Alberta. It hears civil claims and criminal cases that are beyond the jurisdiction of the Provincial Court. Some cases are heard with a jury and some by a Judge alone. The Court of Queen’s Bench is also an Appeal Court. It hears the appeals from Provincial Court decisions. For example, if you are convicted of a summary conviction offence in Provincial Court, Criminal Division or lose a civil case in Civil Division, you would appeal the decision in the Court of Queen’s Bench.
The Court of Appeal is where parties appeal decisions of civil or criminal cases. This Court does not hear trials. This is a Court where arguments are made by lawyers on points of law that concern the decision. The only recourse from the Court of Appeal decision is an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. In most cases, you must receive permission from the Supreme Court of Canada before it will hear the appeal. The Court will hear only a small portion of the appeals for which permission is sought. The Supreme Court of Canada is a national Court and is the highest Court in Canada. The Supreme Court of Canada is located in Ottawa and consists of nine federally appointed justices.
The Federal Court of Canada consists of a Trial Division and a Court of Appeal. This Court deals with matters outside the territorial jurisdiction of any province as defined by the Constitution Act. For example, Federal Courts hears matters on Admiralty Law, Income Tax, Patents, Immigration and Customs Law. Actions taken against the Government of Canada are also heard by the Federal Court. The cases are first heard in the Federal Court Trial Division and its decision appealed to the Federal Court of Appeal. Federal Court of Appeal decisions are appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada.