Where to File
BC Supreme Court can hear many different types of issues, but it still might not be the right place to start your claim. Different issues must be heard in different places. If you start a court proceeding in the wrong venue, this can lead to cost, and delay, and possibly mean that a limitation period is missed (see Limitation Periods). Therefore, it is important to think at the outset carefully about where you need to go. If you are not certain where you should file your case, you should seek legal advice from a lawyer.
If you’ve determined the BC Supreme Court is the right venue for your claim, you must then decide in which court registry to file your documents.
Generally, claims are started in the registry most convenient to the person starting the proceeding. If you live in Langley, don’t forget that if you start the proceeding in Vancouver, you are going to be traveling to Vancouver to file your documents and attend court hearings. A court in New Westminster or Chilliwack might be more convenient.
Is BC Supreme Court Right for Me?
The British Columbia Supreme Court (sometimes referred to as the BCSC or simply the Supreme Court) is the highest-level trial court in the province. It also hears most appeals from Provincial Court and judicial reviews from administrative tribunals.
Litigation in the Supreme Court can be complicated, time-consuming, and expensive. Though you do not need a lawyer to be heard at the Supreme Court, the process was not designed with self-represented people in mind.
Supreme Court Jurisdiction
For civil claims, the BC Supreme Court will hear claims valued $35,000 and up. Claims valued between $5,001 to $35,000 must usually be started in Small Claims Court, a division of the BC Provincial Court. Most claims for $5,000 or less should be started in the Civil Resolution Tribunal (the “CRT”). There are some very important exceptions!
In addition to hearing claims for more than $35,000, the Supreme Court also hears:
- Injunctions: An injunction is where a Court orders that someone does something, or not do something
- Family Law Matters: The Supreme Court hears cases involving divorce, adoption, the division of family property, and parenting arrangements resulting from a separation. More information on family law proceedings in the Supreme Court can be found here
- Certain Criminal Matters: The Supreme Court hears some of the most serious criminal cases, including murder, manslaughter, aggravated assault, bank robbery, contempt of court, and major drug cases. More information on criminal proceedings in the Supreme Court can be found here
- Appeals from Provincial Court: Appeals from the Provincial Court are heard in BC Supreme Court. For example, a party unsuccessful in a small claims matter may ask the BC Supreme Court to review the decision. Information on appealing a small claims decision can be found here. See also Appeals to the BC Supreme Court
Judicial Review of decisions from Provincial decision-makers: Decisions affecting rights and interests are made by many government officials. For example, issues around housing rental are made by the Residential Tenancy Branch. Decisions about workers’ compensation are made by WorkSafe BC. The Supreme Court provides oversight of those bodies and can hear “judicial review” applications challenging such decisions. More information about judicial review applications is found in the Judicial Review
CRT Jurisdiction: Some issues are under the jurisdiction of the Civil Resolution Tribunal such as many strata issues, societies and cooperatives issues, and vehicle accident claims. Be sure to review the Civil Resolution tribunal’s website to learn more about the types of cases they deal with.
Tribunal Jurisdiction: There are some issues that are under the jurisdiction of an administrative tribunal and must be brought there first, such and most disputes between a landlord and tenant (the Residential Tenancy Branch).
Abandoning part of a claim: If you want to take advantage of the simpler rules and processes of Small Claims Court, you can abandon the amount of your claim over $35,000. You will not be able to make a later claim for the amount abandoned.
Courthouses & Registries
The British Columbia Supreme Court has courthouses all over the province. A map showing court locations can be found here.
Each courthouse has a registry where documents can be filed. Each court registry maintains its own files for each action begun in that registry. They are the official record keepers of pleadings and all other documents that are filed in relation to each case. Their staff also reviews documents to ensure that they are in the correct form before accepting them for filing.
Court registry staff are helpful and may be able to point out small errors in the form of the document before you file it, but remember that they cannot give you legal advice. When you submit your completed documents, court registry staff will check to make sure they meet the standards before accepting them for filing. You are responsible for including all other information required by the court and ensuring that it is correct.
The courts and registries are extremely busy. Matters may not move as quickly through the courts as you would expect.