Source: Introduction to The Study of Law (8 edn, 2016), p. 103 Top.


  The key to the Canadian court system is the superior court of general jurisdiction in each province. The name of this court varies from province to province. In Ontario it is called the Superior Court of Justice. In Saskatchewan, Alberta and New Brunswick it is the Court of Queen's Bench. In the other common law provinces it is the Supreme Court, the trial division being originally distinguished from the appellate division. In Quebec it is the Cour Supérieure. This court is the court of justice in each province, not in the sense that it hears more cases or affects more people other than courts. It does not. It is the court in the sense that it is the general court with unlimited juris- diction and unlimited powers to administer the law except insofar as a statute specifically gives exclusive jurisdiction over some particular subject-matter to another tribunal. It is this court that is the successor to the eighteenth-century courts of common law and equity. All other courts, above and below, have been added later.
  Over the superior court of original jurisdiction in each province is an appel- late court, called the Court of Appeal. In Ontario there is also a court called the Divisional Court which sits in panels of three judges of the Superior Court to hear certain kinds of appeals and to review decisions of administrative tribunals. The judges of all these provincial courts are appointed by the government of Canada.

Exclude Québec. I know that this isn't the most urgent legal hitch in Canada, but what are some other reasons for not uniformising the names of the Superior Provincial Courts? Like Superior Court of [Province/Territory name]?

Laypeople usually confuse Supreme Court of B.C. with Supreme Court of Canada.

2 Answers 2


If the naming were made uniform, somebody would have to redo stationary, court forms, bank account names, contracts with all sorts of employees and vendors, statutory language in provincial and local statutes regulations and ordinances referencing the courts in question, maps, building signs, traffic signs directing people to courts, and more at a modest but not minimal dollar cost.

It could also lead to confusion in a transition period. People doing searches for records with the new name would miss older records. Some people used to the old name would no doubt continue to use the old name and then one would have to decide when that mistake was legally material or not, and people not familiar with the old name might be confused as well. Judges and lawyers and law enforcement officers would need to know both names so as to catch and deal appropriately with mistakes by less well informed and up to date people.

Tradition and historical accident aren't terribly strong reasons to continue doing something, but there is also something to be said for the maxim that if it isn't broken, don't fix it.

Non-uniform names do lead to confusion when people deal with other jurisdictions with which they are not familiar.

For example, in New York State as in many common law provinces in Canada, the "Supreme Court" is confusingly, the trial court of general jurisdiction and the intermediate court of appeal is the appellate division of the Supreme Court, even though in most other U.S. states, the "Supreme Court" is the highest appellate court in the jurisdiction, and the "Family Court" in New York State is a court that doesn't have jurisdiction over divorces. It is weird, and confusing, but changing it would arguably be worse if done for no reason.

Usually, the best time to make cosmetic and stylistic changes is when you are overhauling the system anyway.

For example, if the successor court to the Court of Queen's Bench will have a jurisdiction or other features quite different from the old Court of Queen's Bench under a court reform plan (e.g. maybe one court will have the Queen's Bench Court's criminal jurisdiction and a different court will have the Queen's Bench Court's civil jurisdiction), that might be a good time to rename the successor court in a way that clearly contrasts with the old Court of Queen's Bench and the new courts, and when that is done, it would be best to pick a new name that reflects the a majority modern usage.

Similarly, if Alberta were divided into the new provinces of North Alberta and South Alberta as global warming leads to the opening of new lakeside beach resorts in Northern Alberta (see, e.g., this satirical article along those lines), then that might be a good time to rename the courts of the successor provinces.


Provinces need not harmonise the names of their institutions for the same reason that Canada doesn't necessarily adopt the names of United States institutions or the institutions of any other country.

In your house, your kitchen is not necessarily laid out the same as your neighbour's kitchen. Perhaps there would be some marginal social utility in every kitchen being laid out the same, and your neighbour could come over and use some of your spices if they ran out themselves. You wouldn't even need to be home, they could let themselves in and find the spices easily. However, this would be inconsistent with you being an independent person with your own property.

Since each province has its own legal system, which for some provinces pre-dates the federation, the names of the institutions in each system reflects its particular history and individuality.

What would they harmonise the names with? Why 'Superior Court'? Why not all be called 'Court of Appeal' or 'Court of Queen's Bench' or some other name? This could turn into a 'bike shed' argument.

Canadian provinces do not have all of the powers and independence of an Australian state, but they retain some independent character. I know a lot of people say you should hand over your life, liberty and property to people thousands of kilometres away if they are more numerous than you, but the other view is that government is more legitimate the more closely it is connected to the governed. Every government which is formed out of pre-existing governments (e.g. United States, Australia, Canada, European Union, etc) strikes its own balance between the need for local autonomy and the need for coordination through a central authority. I can't speak for Canadians, but as a Victorian I feel that the unique features of my State's institutions are an important symbol of our independence within the Australian system.

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    As an aside, even in the United States, the names of the various levels of state courts are not identical among the states. For example, in California the levels of general courts are Superior, Appeal, and Supreme Courts, in ascending order, while in New York, the courts are District, Supreme, and Court of Appeals. The US Federal Courts have an identical structure but these a separate parallel court system.
    – sharur
    Oct 30, 2018 at 2:46

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