The appeal process in Canada exists to allow a trial decision to be reviewed by a higher-level
court and ensure the decision was legally correct and prevent injustices. An appeal needs to be
based on interpretations of the law, or overriding errors in judgment, where the decision could
not have been supported by the evidence presented at trial. Appeals will not be entertained
simply because the decision was not in someone’s favour. Following a trial, the losing party has
a limited amount of time to initiate an appeal. The other party may also initiate a cross-appeal
to challenge part of the trial decision despite the earlier success.
How it Works
Appeal courts are structured differently than trial courts. Appeal courts do not re-hear the
evidence and the accused is usually not present. Appeal courts defer to trial court decisions
when it comes to assessing the credibility of evidence and testimony except in cases of an
overriding error by the trial court. Instead, appeals involve a panel of judges (known as justices)
who hear arguments from the opposing lawyers. The lawyers focus on arguing the merits of the
applicable laws and how those laws should be interpreted in the given situation. Although the
case is centered on a certain individual, the appeal is more about what the law should be in
similar cases in the future.
Appeals can produce a few different results. First, the appeal court can uphold the trial
decision. Second, it has the authority to replace the trial decision with its own. But if the appeal
court determines that the original trial was faulty, it can also order that a new trial take place.
Appeal courts do not accept every appeal and only review the most serious cases and those
with broader societal implications. Appeal decisions must be thoroughly considered and
prepared because they are binding upon lower courts within the jurisdiction. As an example,
decisions from the Supreme Court of Canada are binding upon all courts in the country, but
decisions of the Alberta Court of Appeal are binding only within Alberta. In Canada, there are
three levels of appeal.
Appeal from Summary Conviction
The first level of appeal allows a summary conviction from the provincial lower court to be
reviewed by the superior court in the province. The matter can be adjudicated by a court with
more authority before it reaches the provincial Court of Appeal. In Alberta, the superior court is
called the Court of Queen’s Bench.
The Provincial Court of Appeal
For all other appeals, including indictable convictions, appeals are handled by the Court of
Appeal. The Court of Appeal consists of three justices who review court decisions from across
the province. In most cases, the appeal will end here. However, in some situations, such as a
reversal of an acquittal or a split decision (where one of the justices disagrees with the other
two) the case may be granted the right to be heard by the Supreme Court of Canada.
The Supreme Court of Canada
The Supreme Court of Canada consists nine justices who represent the various regions of the
country. The Supreme Court focusses on issues of the greatest importance and that require
national direction to alleviate legal discrepancies that have arisen the provinces. The Supreme
Court is the highest court in the country and its decisions cannot be appealed.
Need more information? Contact the team at DDSG Criminal Law to speak to an attorney.