Lesson 8: Supreme Court of BC

Topic 2: Civil Cases

The following information is taken from www.SupremeCourtBC.ca, a website that introduces people to the Supreme Court of BC.

Civil cases in the Supreme Court of British Columbia usually involve claims exceeding $25,000. Claims of less than $25,000 are heard in the Provincial Court of British Columbia. Supreme Court judges also hear cases involving civil matters such as bankruptcy, personal injury claims and contract disputes, as well as judicial reviews of administrative tribunals like the Worker’s Compensation Board. Cases of libel, slander and malicious prosecution are also heard in this court.

Typically, to start a civil claim, a plaintiff or petitioner files a Notice of Civil Claim or a Petition. The defendant or respondent must then reply in order to dispute the case.

Claims at the Supreme Court may be heard by judge or jury, however most civil cases in the Supreme Court are heard by a judge alone. A jury in a civil trial has only eight members and they do not have to reach a unanimous decision, as long as 75% (or six out of eight jurors) agree on the result after at least three hours of deliberation.

In either case, judges or juries will listen to both sides, weigh the evidence, and make a decision in favour of the party who can convince the court that their side of the case is more probable. The principle behind this is known as proving your case on ‘the balance of probabilities’. It is different from the type of proof required in a criminal case. If a plaintiff is the successful party in a civil trial, the judge will award damages to the plaintiff. The jury can also make decisions on the amount of damages awarded in a case. If the defendant is the successful party then the claim will be dismissed.

The Provincial Court of BC hears about half of another type of civil case: family matters. If a case deals with divorce, adoptions, or the division of family property, it would be heard in Supreme Court.

If a case involves the custody and guardianship of, or access to, or child support of children of separated parents, the case can be heard in either trial court. If it involves child protection – where the state alleges children have been neglected or abused - then the case is only heard in Provincial Court. 

Very few family cases go to trial. The large majority of family disputes get resolved by an agreement between the parties often through some type of mediation service.