The Complete Guide to Alberta’s Legal/Judicial System

Complete Guide to Edmonton's Legal System

If you’re wondering how Edmonton’s legal system works, here’s everything there is to know about the ins and outs of the province’s court system.

Note that this article is meant to explore and provide an overview of the province’s court system, and is not meant to take the place of any legal advice from lawyers. 

The Three Levels of Courts

Edmonton’s legal system takes after the province of Alberta’s legal system, which includes three levels of courts. These are:

  • Provincial Court
  • Court of Queen’s Bench
  • Court of Appeal

There is also the Federal Court, which handles matters outside of Alberta’s territorial jurisdiction. We’ll discuss this further in a bit.

The Provincial Court

First we talk about Alberta’s Provincial Court. This court can be found in most major towns and cities in Alberta including Edmonton, its capital.

All Divisions of Provincial Court can be found in major cities, with locations for smaller centers regularly on rotation as part of a circuit.

The Court of Queen’s Bench

The Court of Queen’s Bench is the superior Court in the entire province of Alberta. It handles more serious offenses such as murder, or any civil and criminal case that is considered to be outside of the jurisdiction of Provincial Court.

In the Court of Queen’s Bench, only a lawyer is allowed to represent, unlike the Provincial Court where both a lawyer or an agent is allowed.

In lieu of any legal counsel, a person may still choose to represent themselves in both Provincial Court and the Court of Queen’s Bench.

However, in more serious circumstances, the court may sometimes advise an individual against having themselves as their own legal representation and get a lawyer instead. 

There are a lot of great lawyers around Edmonton offering their services in various areas of focus, such as: 

Cases handled by the Court of Queen’s Bench are heard either by an entire jury or a judge alone. It is also considered an Appeal Court that hears appeals made against decisions in Provincial Court.

The Court of Appeal

The Court of Appeal is where parties appeal decisions made on civil or criminal cases. 

This court does not hear trials, and is instead a place where lawyers make their arguments by bringing up points of law that are relevant to the decision and that might benefit their case.

In the event that another appeal be made against a decision made in the Court of Appeal, the matter must be taken up to and only with permission from the Supreme Court of Canada.

The Supreme Court is the highest court in Canada, granting permission to be heard to only a few of the appeals made.

The Federal Court

Lastly, the Federal Court, as mentioned before, is concerned with matters outside of Alberta’s jurisdiction, such as cases involving Admiralty Law, Income Tax, Patents , Customs Law, and Immigration. It consists of a Trial Division and a Court of Appeal.

This means that people working with patent lawyers and immigration lawyers will typically end up in this court.

The Federal Court also hears cases that involve actions that are taken against the Government of Canada.

Cases are first heard in the Trial Division, with any appeal regarding its resulting decision made to the Federal Court of Appeal. Any appeals to this decision must in turn be taken up to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The Divisions of Provincial Court

The Divisions of Provincial Court's Banner

Now we return to Edmonton’s Provincial Court, as each Provincial Court is subdivided into five Divisions, each with its own distinct purpose. 

The Criminal Division

Let’s start with the largest one, the Criminal Division.

A majority of criminal charges are prosecuted and heard in Provincial court. As such, all those accused with criminal charges are required to have first appearances in Provincial Court. 

And if currently in custody, a bail hearing must be held to determine whether the accused is to remain in custody or be released until their trial. Edmonton has a host of criminal defense lawyers to represent the accused. 

There are three types of criminal offences:

  • Indictable
  • Summary convictions
  • Hybrid

Indictable offences are among the most serious offences, and these include murder, terrorism, robbery, and drug trafficking.

Summary convictions are considerably less grave than indictable offences, such as nudity, trespassing at night, or falsifying employment records. 

Hybrid offences are the most common, and include assault, sexual assult, fraud under $5,000, and theft under $5,000.

Minor summary convictions are still under the jurisdiction of the Provincial Court. However, when the criminal offence is deemed to be indictable, the accused is given an election in order to be prosecuted in the Court of Queen’s Bench.

In such an event, a preliminary inquiry will be held by a Provincial Court Judge to gauge the sufficiency of evidence to actually warrant a trial being held.

The Family Division

The next largest division of Provincial Court is the Family Division. It deals with many legal family issues, such as custody and access orders, maintenance, and child welfare. Many of these applications don’t warrant any lawyers at all.

However, if you and your family are going through such circumstances, some legal advice can still be sought from family lawyers.

In any case, this division’s name often confuses people. For instance, while it may seem like a matter for the Family Division, divorces are actually outside of its jurisdiction.

Indeed, divorces can only be granted by the Court of Queen’s Bench in Alberta. Hence, divorce lawyers will only ever be found working there, not in this division of the Provincial Court. 

The Youth Division

The Youth Division is concerned with young offenders 12 to 17 years of age. 

Sometimes, a young offender may be tried as an adult in either the Criminal Division of the Provincial Court or the Court of Queen’s Bench. This only happens in exceptional situations.

The Civil Division

The Civil Division of the Provincial Court tries civil claims involving money amounting to a maximum of $50,000. As such, civil claims exceeding this threshold must be filed in the Court of Queen’s Bench. 

However, individuals may still proceed with their claims passing the $50,000 mark in Provincial Court. With that said, the amount that can be recovered for such cases is capped at $50,000.

The Traffic Division

Lastly, there is the Traffic Division of the Provincial Court. This division focuses on traffic violations and breaches of municipal bylaws.

Appeals in the Court System

In the Alberta legal system (which also encompasses Edmonton’s), there is a clear hierarchy governing the different levels of court when it comes to appealing the decisions of a certain Court.

This hierarchy is explained as follows: the Supreme Court of Canada, followed by the Federal Court and Federal Court of Appeal (including the provincial or territorial courts of appeal), the provincial superior court (the Court of Queens Bench), and the provincial lower court.

Keep in mind that the decision of a Court can only be appealed to the Court immediately above it. For example, if one loses a civil case in the Civil Division of Provincial Court, the proceedings can only be appealed to the Court of Queen’s Bench.

If, in turn, new appeals are borne out of the decision, parties may do so at the Court of Appeal, and subsequently, the Supreme Court of Canada.