The Quebec Court of Appeal is the general court of appeal for Quebec.
Its jurisdiction is very broad as it hears appeals from any judgment from which an appeal lies throughout Quebec and in all matters, unless the appeal is expressly assigned to the jurisdiction of another court.
The right to appeal is a statutory right, however, and only exists when a statute expressly so provides. There is no appeal without a legislative text. The right to appeal thus derives first and foremost from a legislative choice. The finality of judgments, the need to end disputes within a reasonable time and the costs involved in the judicial process justify such limits to the right to appeal.
Unlike the superior courts at the trial level, whose judges are appointed by the federal government under section 96 of the Constitution Act, 1867, Canadian courts of appeal have no inherent jurisdiction that would allow them to create an appeal that does not otherwise exist.
It is therefore incorrect to say and believe that there is always a way to appeal the judgment of a trial court. There is no right of appeal on any given issue unless the competent legislature has so provided.
Depending on the circumstances, an appeal can be asserted as of right, or it is made subject to prior authorization being obtained. In each case, the legislation that provides for the right to appeal must be consulted.
Insofar as a statute provides for a right to appeal, the Court of Appeal exercises its functions and acts as the primary appellate jurisdiction for cases that have already been litigated and decided at trial. Sometimes, however, the Court of Appeal serves as a second level of appeal. This is particularly so with respect to offences created by some provincial statutes and regulations; for example, the Code of Penal Procedure of Quebec provides a first appeal as of right to the Superior Court of Quebec.
The Court's role is to examine and, if necessary, to reverse or vary the judgments submitted to it for consideration. The Court does not decide legal issues in the abstract. It does not give theoretical opinions, except in the special cases of references ordered by the provincial government under the Court of Appeal Reference Act, C.Q.L.R., c. R-23.
As a general rule, the Court of Appeal exercises its jurisdiction in panels of three judges, but the this number may be increased – usually to five – in cases the Chief Justice deems appropriate. The Code of Civil Procedure does not provide for a maximum number of judges on a panel. It is not impossible to imagine a case where the Chief Justice could ask all the judges of the Court to sit. The court would then sit in banco, but this has never happened in the recent history of the Court.
The Code of Civil Procedure and several specific statutes, both provincial and federal, confer jurisdiction on a judge of the Court of Appeal sitting alone (usually referred to as a judge in chambers) on certain matters, for example, leave to appeal, release from custody of a convicted accused pending appeal or case management in appeal. A judge in chambers, however, can defer any such motion to a panel of the Court.
In civil matters, the Court of Appeal hears appeals from any final judgment of the Superior Court or the Court of Quebec, as of right, where the value of the object in dispute in appeal is at least $60,000, or with leave in any other appealable matter.
The Court also hears appeals as of right from several categories of judgments of the Superior Court where there is no specific monetary value in dispute.
The list of final judgments appealable as of right include those of the Court of Quebec in cases where that court has exclusive jurisdiction under any statute other than the Code of Civil Procedure, final judgments in matters of contempt of court for which there is no other recourse, judgments or orders rendered in matters of adoption, as well as final judgments rendered in matters concerning confinement in an institution or psychiatric assessment.
In civil matters, the judgments rendered in the course of a proceeding, before the judgement terminating said proceeding has been rendered, may be appealed with leave only, except for the following situation. In fact, a judgment disallowing an objection to evidence based on the duty of discretion of public servants or on professional secrecy is appealable as of right (art. 31 C.C.P.).
In criminal and penal matters, the Quebec Court of Appeal has jurisdiction to hear appeals from verdicts and sentences under the federal Criminal Code as well as under the provincial Code of Penal Procedure, although some of such appeals require prior authorization.
There is an extensive list of federal and provincial statutes, in addition to the Code of Civil Procedure, the Criminal Code and the Code of Penal Procedure, which provides for a right to appeal as of right or with leave, depending on the circumstances. It is eloquent testimony to the wide variety of topics that appeal judges are called upon to decide throughout their career that the list includes, by way of illustration, the following statutes:
The Supreme Court of Canada may grant leave to appeal from a judgment of the Quebec Court of Appeal. The highest court in the country only authorized a dozen appeals from Quebec each year. This attests to the fact that, in the vast majority of cases, the Quebec Court of Appeal has the final word in cases brought before it. Exceptionally, in criminal matters, certain judgments of the Court of Appeal may be appealed as of right to the Supreme Court of Canada.
The Quebec Court of Appeal has sat continuously since 1849. Its commitment to the concepts of judicial independence and impartiality, as well as its continuing efforts to ensure access to justice, is such that it is now one of the pillars of the rule of law in Quebec.