There are three courts in British Columbia: the Provincial Court of British Columbia and the Supreme Court of British Columbia are trial courts, and the British Columbia Court of Appeal hears appeals from the decisions of both trial courts.
The Provincial Court has jurisdiction (legal authority) to deal with the following types of matters:
The Provincial Court’s criminal jurisdiction extends to most offences in the Criminal Code that may be heard by a judge sitting alone. BC Supreme Court Justices conduct jury trials, while Provincial Court Judges do not. The Provincial Court has exclusive jurisdiction in all summary conviction trials and hears all indictable matters where the accused does not choose to be tried in the Supreme Court. More than 95% of all criminal cases in BC are dealt with in the Provincial Court. In criminal cases, Provincial Court Judicial Justices and Judges conduct bail hearings; Provincial Court Judges conduct trials where an accused person pleads not guilty and they sentence people who plead guilty or who are found guilty at a trial.
In Youth Court, Provincial Court Judges deal with young persons aged 12 to 18 who are charged with criminal offences, applying the Criminal Code and the special procedures for young people established by the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
The Provincial Court has jurisdiction to hear civil lawsuits involving a monetary claim of up to $25,000. The Small Claims Act and Small Claims Rules establish procedures intended to resolve claims in a just, speedy, inexpensive and simple manner, so that people may launch and defend lawsuits without lawyers if they choose. In addition to conducting trials of civil lawsuits and hearing applications, Provincial Court Judges conduct settlement conferences where Small Claims litigants are given the opportunity to settle their disputes by agreement.
When social workers remove children from their parents’ care due to concerns about mistreatment or neglect, they must file a report in the Provincial Court, and the Court deals with such child protection matters under the Child, Family and Community Services Act by holding case conferences to assist in planning for the children and by conducting hearings when the parents and social workers disagree.
Sharing extensive jurisdiction with the Supreme Court under the new BC Family Law Act, the Provincial Court handles matters including guardianship, parenting arrangements, child and spousal maintenance, and protection orders. However, the Provincial Court does not deal with divorce, adoptions or the division of family property; the Supreme Court has exclusive jurisdiction in those matters. To resolve issues that arise between separated couples, Provincial Court Judges hold family case conferences and conduct hearings to decide issues the parties cannot agree on.
Provincial Court Judicial Justices conduct trials involving traffic tickets and municipal bylaw offences.
Depending on the nature of the case, an appeal from a Provincial Court decision may be heard by the Supreme Court of British Columbia or the British Columbia Court of Appeal. Following the decision of the Court of Appeal, some Provincial Court decisions may be taken to the Supreme Court of Canada for a final decision.