Sometimes, you’ll have an issue that can’t be settled with words alone. While no one likes to take a matter to court, there isn’t always another option. If you need to sue someone over a civil matter, or are being sued yourself, Right Legal can help you find the right lawyer to handle the case.
What is civil litigation?
Litigation refers to the process of settling a dispute through the court system. Broadly speaking, civil litigation includes any litigation issue that is not a criminal charge. Cases in civil litigation can concern any matter that arises as between two parties. A breach of contract, a personal injury claim, an employment matter, or a business dispute such as intellectual property will all be heard in civil court. A civil litigator will not just be involved in arguing cases in a court of law. Litigation also includes a number of related processes including document drafting, due diligence, examinations for discovery, and many more things, which go into building a court case. While the process can vary by province, each province will have a generally similar system.
Courts decide cases based on a concept known as the “burden of proof”. The burden of proof in civil litigation is known as the “balance of probabilities”: essentially, if after hearing evidence from the plaintiff (the party who filed the claim) and the defendant (the party being sued), the judge or jury decides that it is more likely than not that the defendant did what the plaintiff alleges they did, then the plaintiff will win. Awards in a civil lawsuit are generally monetary damages; in very unique circumstances, the court may order “specific performance”, or a direction to the defendant to act in some specific way.
Each province will have its own court system through which litigation will progress. The lowest court in many provinces is the Provincial Court, an “inferior court” where most matters can be heard, and individuals will sometimes act for themselves (“self-represented litigants”). Provincial courts will not be able to hear serious or complex civil trials, such as certain family law actions, certain claims in tort or in property, or any claim above a certain monetary value (which will vary from province to province).
Those more complex cases which cannot be heard in Provincial Court are heard instead in the “superior court”, the name of which varies by province. The Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench, the Supreme Court of British Columbia, and the Ontario Superior Court of Justice are all examples of superior courts (even though only one is actually called “superior”!). Appeals from the Provincial Court are also heard in the superior court.
Appeals from the province’s superior court will always go to the Court of Appeal in that province (which is always called the Court of Appeal). Appeals hearings are not trials, and there are no witnesses or juries. A panel of three judges will hear arguments from lawyers on both sides of the case, which are almost always related to the interpretation of the law by the judge in the court below. The Court of Appeal will either overturn or uphold the decision of the lower court.
Decisions of the Court of Appeal can be appealed, in certain circumstances, to the Supreme Court of Canada. The Supreme Court hears between 50 and 75 appeals per year, and only on matters of legal significance to the country as a whole. As a result of this, almost all cases end at the Court of Appeal.
The Federal court system, consisting of the Federal Court and the Federal Court of Appeal, along with the Tax Court of Canada, hears issues specifically relating to the jurisdiction of the Federal government, such as intellectual property and taxes. Cases can be appealed from the Federal Court of Appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.
What laws govern civil litigation in Canada?
Each Canadian province will have Rules of Court governing the court procedure at all levels. The various lower courts in each province, along with the Courts of Appeal, are established by statute within the province.
The Supreme Court of Canada is established by the Supreme Court Act, which establishes its status as the highest court in the country.
Numerous other statutes can give rise to some sort of litigation. For example, the Fatal Accidents Act and Survival of Accidents Act establish the types of claims that a person’s estate can bring in cases of their death. Each province will also have statutes which lay out the conduct of cases at the various levels of court, the matters certain court levels can hear, and the types of awards that can be rendered.
What sort of work would civil litigators be involved in?
All litigation will require the drafting of documents to send to the other side, including statements of claim and defence and other procedural motions. Litigators, like all lawyers, are advocates, not their clients’ mouthpieces. A litigator is obligated to seek the best possible result for their client, doing so using their considerable experience and skill as well as a team of legal assistants and litigation paralegals. However, litigators are also committed to principled and ethical advocacy. Despite what American TV shows might suggest, court cases are generally conducted in a civil and respectful manner. Lawyers are not there to be the stars of the show, but to assist the court in reaching a just conclusion.
For specific or complex areas of litigation, such as intellectual property or professional negligence cases, the lawyer may also want to contract with expert witnesses, who will be able to testify at trial.
Points of Interest
Canadian litigation is significantly different from the court proceedings portrayed on American television. Judges do not use gavels, and jury trials are highly uncommon in both criminal and civil cases.
For almost a century in Canada, cases could be appealed from the Supreme Court of Canada to the highest court in the United Kingdom, known as the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. Criminal cases stopped being appealed to the Privy Council in 1933, and the Supreme Court Act was amended to remove appeals to the Privy Council entirely in 1949.
Let Right Legal will connect you with the right civil litigation in Edmonton, Alberta, and cities across Canada.