The topics in the Dial-A-Law series provide general information on legal issues within the Province of Alberta. The purpose of this topic is to inform you of your legal rights and responsibilities. This is not legal advice. If you require legal advice, you should contact a lawyer.
This topic will discuss the basic points of the Alberta Court system. More information about the courts can be found on their website, https://albertacourts.ca/.
Levels of Court in Alberta
In Alberta, the Court system includes three levels of Court:
- (1) Provincial Court of Alberta
- (2) The Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench
- (3) The Alberta Court of Appeal.
(1) Provincial Court of Alberta
In Alberta, the Provincial Court has five (5) categories of issues. The divisions are:
- (a) Criminal Division;
- (b) Family Division;
- (c) Youth Division;
- (d) Civil Division;
- (e) Traffic Division.
Locations of Provincial Courts in Alberta
The Provincial Court is located in most towns and cities throughout Alberta. All five divisions of the Provincial Court take place in Calgary and Edmonton on a permanent basis. In various smaller centres, such as Red Deer, Lethbridge and Medicine Hat, the divisions take place as part of a circuit or rotation. Check https://albertacourts.ca/ for the location and times of any of the divisions of Provincial Court.
Divisions of Provincial Court in Alberta
(a) Criminal Division
The largest division of the Provincial Court is the Criminal Division. Most criminal prosecutions in Alberta start in Provincial Court. The Criminal Division handles:
- First appearances;
- Entry of pleas (guilty or not guilty);
- Bail hearings;
- Preliminary inquiries;
- Criminal trials;
- Sentencing of all summary convictions and the majority of indictable offences.
In the Criminal Code of Canada, there are three classifications of criminal offences; (1) indictable offences, (2) summary convictions and (3) hybrid offences. Indictable offences are the most serious of criminal offences. These offences include such crimes as: murder, terrorism, robbery, and drug trafficking. Summary convictions are offences that are less serious. Most offences are hybrid offences. These offences can either be prosecuted as summary or indictable offences. Examples of hybrid offences include: assault, sexual assault, fraud under $5000.00, and theft under $5000.00.
For hybrid offences, an accused person can choose or elect to have their matter heard in a particular court. If the accused elects to be prosecuted in the Court of Queen’s Bench, a Provincial Court Judge will first hold a preliminary inquiry to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to warrant holding a trial.
(b) Family Division
The Family Division of the Provincial Court of Alberta deals with a wide variety of family legal issues, including:
- Parenting and contact orders (custody and access to children);
- Emergency protection orders;
- Mental health warrants;
- Maintenance and spousal support; and
- Child welfare matters.
Importantly, the Family Division cannot grant a divorce. These matters are dealt with ay the Court of Queen’s Bench.
(c) Youth Division
The Youth Division of the Provincial Court deals with Criminal Code offences committed by individuals between the ages of 12 and 17 years (inclusive). In exceptional cases, a young offender may be tried as an adult in the Court of Queen’s Bench or the Provincial Court, Criminal Division.
(d) Civil Division
The Civil Division of the Provincial Court hears civil claims involving a dispute of $50,000.00 or less. A claim involving an amount over $50,000.00 must be heard in the Court of Queen’s Bench. If a person has a claim for more than $50,000.00 they may proceed with the action in Provincial Court; however they must abandon the excess and can only recover a maximum of $50,000.00.
(e) Traffic Division
The Traffic Division of the Provincial Court deals with traffic violations and breaches of municipal bylaws, provincial statutes and a few federal statutes.
(2) Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench
The Court of Queen’s Bench is the Superior Trial Court in Alberta. This Court hears civil claims and criminal cases that are beyond the jurisdiction of the Provincial Court. For example, if an accused in a criminal case elects to proceed with their trail in the Court of Queen’s Bench.
In the Court of Queen’s Bench, cases can be heard with a jury or by a Judge alone.
The Court of Queen’s Bench is also an Appeal Court. This means that the Court hears appeals from Provincial Court decisions. An appeal is when a person asks for a court decision to be reviewed and remade by another Court. For example, if a person is convicted of assault (summary conviction) in the Provincial Court, Criminal Division, they could appeal the conviction in the Court of Queen’s Bench.
(3) Alberta Court of Appeal
The Court of Appeal is an appellant court only. The Court of Appeal does not hear trials; it only deals with appeals of civil or criminal cases. This means that the Court only hears arguments made by lawyers on points of law that concern a previous decision of a lower Court.
A decision of the Court of Appeal can be appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada. In most cases, a party must seek the permission of the Supreme Court before it will hear the appeal.
Legal Representation in Alberta Courts
A person is entitled to be represented by a lawyer or an agent in Provincial Court. An agent can include a person who is acting on your behalf, but is not a lawyer.
Only a lawyer can represent a person in the Court of Queen’s Bench.
Any individual may represent themselves in either Court; however if a matter is serious they may be encouraged by the Court to get a lawyer. If you are unsure whether you need legal representation, speak with a lawyer.
Federal Courts of Canada
In addition to courts within Alberta, there are Federal Courts that deal with matters outside the territorial jurisdiction of Alberta.
The Federal Court of Canada hears matters outside the territorial jurisdiction of any province. The Court has a Trial Division and an Appeal Division. Legal action taken against the Government of Canada is heard by the Federal Court. Federal Court of Appeal decisions are appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada. The Federal Court hears matters, including:
- Admiralty Law;
- Income Tax Law;
- Immigration and Customs Law.
Matters are first heard in the Federal Court Trial Division. A decision can then be appealed to the Federal Court of Appeal.
The Supreme Court of Canada is the highest court in Canada. The Court is located in Ottawa, Ontario and has nine (9) judges appointed by the Prime Minister. In order for an appellant matter to be heard in the Supreme Court, permission must be granted by the Court itself. The Court only hears a small portion of the matters for which permission is sought.
Dial-A-Law is a Calgary Legal Guidance public service project funded in part by the Alberta Law Foundation.