Provincial Court

Jurisdiction of the Court

When speaking of the Court, a reference to jurisdiction may mean either of two things, and what is meant usually can only be discerned from the context in which the term is used.

On the one hand, jurisdiction refers to the territory over which the authority of the Court extends, while on the other hand, the term refers generally to the types and extent of authority conferred upon the Court by the various legislatures. This is often referred to as territorial jurisdiction and legal jurisdiction.

Confusing? It seems the same was not true in ancient times when language appears to have been more colourful and descriptive. In those days the concept of territorial jurisdiction was aptly represented by the word "bailiwick". A person in authority had a right to act only in his or her own bailiwick. So much for the plain language of modern times!

Despite the fact that the province is divided into judicial districts for the purpose of delivering and administering judicial services, the Provincial Court itself has jurisdiction throughout the province and every Provincial Court judge has authority to act anywhere in the province.

This is particularly advantageous for dealing with the exchange of duties among judges when the need arises, as well when the transfer of cases from one district to another is required.

In terms of legal jurisdiction exercised, since 1949 and the advent of Confederation, the Provincial Court is the Court of first instance for all criminal cases involving adult offenders, meaning that everyone charged with a criminal offence must pass through the Provincial Court even if they end up being tried in the Supreme Court.

In addition, the Provincial Court exercises absolute jurisdiction over many criminal code offences such as summary jurisdiction offences and a growing number of indictable offences designated by the Criminal Code of Canada. It also exercises jurisdiction concurrent with the Supreme Court (Trial Division) over a vast number of other indictable offences where an accused person elects trial in the Provincial Court.

The Provincial Court also has jurisdiction over all offences under provincial and federal legislation not considered criminal offences.

As well, the Provincial Court acts in the capacity of the Youth Court as defined in legislation; it exercises authority of the Traffic Court; the Small Claims Court for civil claims up to $25,000.00; and outside of St. John's and the West Coast (where the Family Division of Supreme Court has jurisdiction), the Provincial Court deals with most Family Law matters other than divorce or division of property under the Family Law Act.

Finally, an important component of the work of the Provincial Court is the exercise of a special jurisdiction to conduct inquiries into accidental or mysterious deaths or fires occurring within the province.