Provincial Court

Focus of the Provincial Court

In its early days, particularly before 1949 when Newfoundland and Labrador became a province of Canada, the forerunner of the Provincial Court had a very different focus than the court of modern times.

In the days of Magistrates' Court, the magistrate was very often the highest ranking government official readily accessible to the general population, particularly in rural areas, and he or she was therefore depended upon to act as judge, advisor, counselor, and community facilitator, in addition to acting in many other capacities for various legal and quasi-legal matters. The Court at that time had a much more limited legal jurisdiction than the present Provincial Court and it had a distinct social function in community affairs as well.

Today the reverse is true. Presently the Court has a very broad jurisdiction in legal matters and a very limited function in other social affairs. This change evolved largely with the widespread presence throughout the province of lawyers, social workers and other professionals. Also, an ever increasing emphasis on not only the actual independence and impartiality of judges but also the need for the appearance of independence and impartiality on the part of judicial officers was a very significant and compelling factor in this evolution. Indeed, because the constitution requires that judges be independent and impartial, it would be extremely difficult, if not entirely unacceptable, for the court and judges to become involved in a very broad social mandate as in earlier times.

For that reason, the Provincial Court relies on various agencies and groups in the community for support in carrying out its mandate. To that end, the Court liaises with community based groups and organizations, most notably members of the Newfoundland Bar, including Crown Attorneys and Legal Aid Lawyers, all of whom are officially "officers of the Court" with a duty to, and rights of audience before, the Court; the police, both the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary and the RCMP as well as other peace officers; Adult Corrections professionals; professionals in Youth Corrections; health care authorities; and private sector correctional agencies such as the John Howard Society and the Salvation Army Correctional Services.