Provincial Court is the first level of court in Alberta. The judicial process begins here for everyone accused of a criminal offence. The judges in this court may also sit on the Family Court and in Provincial Court Civil Division where they hear civil cases involving debt, breach of contract, or tort falling under the monetary value of $50,000.
Provincial Court Judges handle most criminal cases. Besides presiding over the first appearance court for all criminal cases, they have absolute jurisdiction over summary offences, including provincial and municipal violations, as well as all indictable offences under section 553 of the Criminal Code of Canada, for example theft under $5,000. Judges in Provincial Court are referred to as “Your Honour,” “Madam,” or “Sir.” The Provincial Court Judge must also determine how an individual elects to be tried if she is accused of an indictable offence. She can elect to have her trial heard by a Judge of the Provincial Court, a Judge of the Court of Queen’s Bench, or by a Judge and jury of the Court of Queen’s Bench.
Court of Queen’s Bench
All indictable offences in the Criminal Code, except those in section 553, are under the absolute jurisdiction of the Court of Queen’s Bench. Judges in the Court of Queen’s Bench are referred to as “My Lord,” or “Sir,” and “My Lady,” or “Madam.” If the accused is sentenced to a period of incarceration, she will be held at a Remand Centre during the thirty-day right to appeal period. Both the person convicted of the crime and the Crown have the right to appeal the sentence or the conviction.
The Attorney General will determine other appeal applications beyond the thirty-day limit. An appeal of the trial decision on a summary conviction offence would be made to the Court of Queen’s Bench; on an indictable offence appeals are made to the Court of Appeal of Alberta.
Alberta Court of Appeal
The Alberta Court of Appeal hears appeals of trials that have taken place in the lower courts. Depending on whether a person has been convicted of a summary offence or an indictable offence, and depending on the issue they are appealing, they may not have an automatic right to appeal their conviction to the Alberta Court of Appeal. If there is no automatic right of appeal, the appellant must submit an argument explaining why their case is important enough to be heard by the Court. The Court then decides whether or not to allow the appeal. A panel of three judges usually hears the cases at the Alberta Court of Appeal.
The Supreme Court of Canada
The Supreme Court of Canada is the highest appeal court in the country. The only cases that are heard by the Supreme Court of Canada are appeals from the Appellate Divisions of the various provinces. In other words, an Alberta case would usually be heard by the Alberta Court of Appeal before it can be appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada. In most cases, there is no automatic right to appeal a case to the Supreme Court of Canada. The Court will review the case and decide whether or not to hear the appeal. However, there is an automatic right to appeal a criminal case to the Supreme Court of Canada in certain circumstances. For instance, if one of the judges of the Alberta Court of Appeal disagreed about how the law should be interpreted, the Supreme Court of Canada will hear the appeal. The same applies if an accused was acquitted at the original trial but was convicted on appeal. The Supreme Court of Canada is composed of a Chief Justice and eight other judges and is located in Ottawa, Ontario.