Generally speaking, there are three broad sources of law that you must consider when deciding whether to start a lawsuit. Together they govern the litigation process. They are:
- Statutes (Also called Legislation or Acts), which set out the basic laws
- Regulations, which provide more details
- Case law, which interprets legislation
In addition, there are rules of Court, which are a type of regulation. They govern the litigation process.
The law can be complicated and for that reason, it is a good idea to consult with a lawyer about what law applies to your case. This could save you time and energy and will help to ensure that your case is presented in the most efficient way. Lawyers have spent years researching the law and can tell you where you can find the law that applies to your case.
Statutes (Which often have “Act” in the title – such as the Family Law Act) are brought into law by the Parliament of Canada and the Provincial Legislature. They give a general framework for the law in a specific topic area (For example, motor vehicle insurance or retirement homes). You can find copies of the federal or provincial statutes at most public libraries.
Read the Rules
The quickest way to find BC laws is at a website called BC Laws at BC Laws.
A collection of current Federal legislation (That is, laws passed by the Canadian government and in force throughout Canada) is available at the Justice Laws Website.
The statutes on these websites may not be up to date (Check the date noted on the website).
Regulations usually set out practical information or procedures relating to particular statutes. They provide specific instructions about the implementation of the statute and tend to change more often than the statute itself. For example, the Motor Vehicle Act sets out broad requirements for cars in the Province. The Motor Vehicle Act Regulations deals with details, like precise guidance on minimum braking standards.
It is crucial to understand the case law that relates to your case. Our Court system works by making decisions that are based on decisions made in earlier cases – precedent – and because of this, you will need to understand those cases similar to yours that the court has already decided.
Reviewing case law is complicated and time- consuming. There may be hundreds (Or even thousands) of cases that seem similar to yours and you may have trouble knowing which cases you should refer to in Court. It is a good idea to consult a lawyer about the law that applies to your case. However, it is possible to research case law on your own.
It is important to keep in mind that British Columbia Supreme Court judges and masters must follow the law as set out in cases that have been decided by higher Courts, meaning the British Columbia Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada. Although a judge in the British Columbia Supreme Court is not strictly bound to follow cases decided by other judges in the same Court, a case with similar facts from the same court will usually be persuasive because it benefits everyone to have consistent decisions from the Court on the same point of law. Decisions made by trial or appeal Courts in other provinces will generally not be helpful unless the Courts in British Columbia have not made a decision on the point of law which is relevant to your case.
One thing that complicates “case law” is that some are decisions that are no longer followed. This happens when a decision is appealed, and the higher Court decides that the decision was a mistake. This is called “overturning” a decision. Once this happens, the BC Supreme Court will no longer “follow” that decision.
If you are researching case law for your own case, the two best, free places to start are at your courthouse library and Canlii, an online database of Canadian Court cases. There are also paid databases, such as Quicklaw and Westlaw. These have more cases than CanLII, and can tell you easily whether a decision has been overturned. It is very expensive to get access to these databases on your own. However, if you go to a Courthouse library they have computers which can access these databases. See Legal Research Basics to learn more.
Rules of Court
The Rules of Court govern the conduct of litigation in the Supreme Court. They are a road map for steering your case through trial and beyond. The Rules are very important because they provide guidelines for each step in the litigation process and also set time limits for when certain steps must be completed. You can find answers to many of your questions about the litigation process by referring to the Rules.
The Court rules also set out the fees payable to the Crown (On behalf of the Court), to the sheriff, and to witnesses. These are contained in Appendix C of the Rules of Court. You can find it with all the other Rules at the Court website. These fees change from time to time, so you should check with the court registry, at the Courthouse library or on the Court website for the current fees payable in each case.
The Chief Justice issues Practice Directions to provide clarification and guidance to Court users on procedural matters, and also issues Notices to advise the legal profession and the public of Court-related matters.