Ontario Superior Court of Justice
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|Ontario Superior Court of Justice|
|Composition method||appointed by the federal government|
|Authorized by||Government of Ontario by Ontario's Courts of Justice Act, 1999|
|Decisions are appealed to||Court of Appeal for Ontario|
|Judge term length||mandatory retirement by age of 75|
|Number of positions||242|
|Currently||Heather Forster Smith|
The Superior Court of Justice is the superior court of general jurisdiction for the Province of Ontario, Canada. It is the successor to the former Ontario Court of Justice (General Division), and was created April 19, 1999. Its predecessor, the Ontario Court (General Division) was the result of the 1990 merger of the previous High Court of Justice, District Court and Surrogate Court. The Superior Court of Justice continues as a superior court of record with general and inherent jurisdiction in all civil and criminal matters. Its seat is at historic Osgoode Hall in Toronto, and the court has 8 regions province-wide.
All civil matters are disposed of in the Superior Court, with the exception of family law matters that are within the jurisdiction of the Ontario Court of Justice. The Ontario Court of Justice is a lower court that assumed the functions of the former Ontario Court (Provincial Division) in 1999. The Superior Court of Justice has sole jurisdiction in divorce cases and in family law matters which contain claims for the division of matrimonial property. It also hears support and custody matters, generally when these have been included in a claim for divorce or where these claims have been joined to claim seeking a division of marital property.
The Superior Court of Justice is also the superior trial court with general jurisdiction in criminal matters and hears all criminal cases that are tried before a judge and a jury. Judges of the Court also hear appeals from the decisions of judges of Ontario Court of Justice in summary conviction matters.
Branches of the Superior Court of Justice
The Superior Court of Justice has three branches:
The Divisional Court
The Divisional Court hears appeals from some judgments and orders of judges of the Superior Court of Justice and reviews or hears appeals from decisions of administrative tribunals. It hears all appeals from a final order of the Superior Court where the award does not exceed $50,000.00. The Divisional Court also hears appeals from Small Claims Court judgments exceeding $2,500.00 (there is no statutory right of appeal from a Small Claims Court judgment of less than $2,500.00). The Divisional Court consists of the Chief Justice of the Superior Court of Justice, who is president of the court, and such other judges of the Superior Court as the Chief Justice designates from time to time. Hearings take place before a panel of three judges except in the case of appeals from the Small Claims Court which take place before a single judge. The Divisional Court is a descendant of the court of the same name in England, which is part of the Queen's Bench division of the English High Court of Justice, and hears certain appeals.
The Small Claims Court
The Small Claims Court has jurisdiction in civil matters where the amount in issue does not exceed $25,000.00 exclusive of interest and costs. The monetary jurisdiction of this court is fixed by regulation, rising to the current limit from $10,000 on January 1, 2010. The majority of Small Claims Court matters are heard by deputy judges, lawyers who have been appointed for a period of three years by the Regional Senior Justice to hear such cases. As result of court reform, no new full-time judges have been appointed by the provincial government to preside in Small Claims Court. Proceedings in the Small Claims Court are governed by a codified set of rules contained in O. Reg. 258/98 (as amended), the Rules of the Small Claims Court, instead of the complex Ontario Rules of Civil Procedure.
The Family Court
In those areas of Ontario where the Family Court branch of the Superior Court of Justice does not exist, jurisdiction over family law disputes is divided between the Superior Court of Justice and the Ontario Court of Justice. Cases which have divorce or property claims are brought exclusively in the Superior Court, and child protection and adoption cases must be commenced solely in the Ontario Court of Justice. Each of these two courts has jurisdiction over child and spousal support, as well as custody and access claims.
In those places where the Family Court branch of the Superior Court of Justice has been established, there is no divided jurisdiction in family law matters. The Family Court succeeds what was known as the Unified Family Court, which began as a pilot project in Hamilton, in 1977. It has complete jurisdiction over all family law matters in its area, including those matters currently within the jurisdiction of judges of the Provincial Division and the General Division. The Family Court is presided over by a Senior Judge of the Superior Court for the Family Court. The Family Court consists of the Chief Justice of the Superior Court, the Associate Chief Justice (Family Court) the Senior Judge of the Family Court, and any other Superior Court Judge as assigned by the Chief Justice or designate.
Judicial Officers of the Court
The Superior Court consists of the Chief Justice of the Superior Court of Justice, currently the Honourable Heather Forster Smith; the Associate Chief Justice of the Superior Court of Justice, currently the Honourable Frank N. Marrocco; 8 Regional Senior Judges; a Senior Judge of the Family Court, currently the Honourable R. John Harper; and such number of judges as is fixed by provincial regulation. The current complement of judges is fixed at 223 judges excluding the Chief Justice, the Associate, the Regional Senior Judges and the Senior Judge of the Family Court. Of this number, 29 are appointed as members of the Family Court. In addition there are a number of supernumerary judges appointed as required from time to time.
Superior Court Judges are federally appointed and paid by the federal government. There are also provincially appointed judicial officers who exercise certain functions in the superior court. These include masters, assessment officers and registrars.
Masters have jurisdiction conferred by the rules of the court in civil and family proceedings in the Superior Court. In civil matters, masters are authorized to hear most pre-trial procedural questions and, as well, deal with specialized matters such as construction liens. Masters carry out case management functions and conduct pre-trials and settlement conferences. The purpose of masters is to undertake work that would otherwise fall to judges and in areas of the province where masters are not assigned, these functions are carried out by the judges of the court. Currently there are masters in Toronto, Windsor and Ottawa.
Orders made by masters have the same force and effect as judges' orders although they may be appealed to a judge. Masters are appointed and paid by the provincial government. Masters have existed in the courts of Ontario since 1837.
Registrars in Bankruptcy: The Superior Court of Justice also has 5 Judicial Officers designated by the Chief Justice under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act to sit as part of the Bankruptcy Court. Currently there is the Registrar and two Deputy Registrars at Toronto as well as a Deputy Registrar in each of Ottawa and London.
Assessment Officers: Assessment Officers (formerly known as taxing officers) review lawyers bills under the Solicitors Act and adjudicate costs awarded to parties by judges or masters if the court does not fix the costs at the hearing of the motion or trial.
- Section 10 of the Courts of Justice Act, R.S.O. 1990, chapter C.43.