The Quebec Court of Appeal is the general court of appeal for Quebec.
Its jurisdiction is very broad as the Court may hear appeals from judgments in all matters from which an appeal lies throughout Quebec, unless the appeal is expressly assigned to the jurisdiction of another court.
Although the Supreme Court of Canada may grant leave to appeal from a judgment of the Court of Appeal of Quebec, and may hear some criminal cases as of right, this occurs only a dozen times each year. This attests to the fact that, in the vast majority of cases, the Court of Appeal has the final word in cases brought before it.
The right to appeal is a statutory right which exists only where expressly provided for by statute. It is therefore incorrect to say that there is always a way to appeal a trial judgment. Unlike the trial judges of the Superior Courts, Canadian appellate judges have no inherent jurisdiction that would allow them to create an appeal not provided for by law. In other words, there is no right to appeal without a legislative text. The right to appeal is thus, first and foremost, 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 limiting the right to appeal.
Depending on the applicable legislation, an appeal may be asserted as of right or may be subject to obtaining leave (prior authorization).
In civil matters, the Court of Appeal hears appeals as of right from final judgments of the Superior Court or the Court of Québec where the value of the object in dispute in appeal is at least $60,000. The Court also hears appeals as of right from several categories of final judgments where there is no specific monetary value in dispute such as 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. Other judgments may only be appealed by obtaining leave. For example, judgments rendered in the course of a proceeding, before a final judgment has been rendered, may be appealed only with leave. The only exception to this rule concerns decisions regarding objections to evidence based on the duty of discretion of public servants or on professional secrecy.
In criminal and penal matters, the Court of Appeal of Quebec has jurisdiction to hear appeals from verdicts and sentences issued pursuant to both the federal Criminal Code and the provincial Code of Penal Procedure. The Court may also serve as a second level of appeal with respect to offences created by provincial statutes and regulations. For example, Quebec's Code of Penal Procedure provides a first appeal as of right to the Superior Court of Quebec.
In all matters where a statute provides for a right to appeal, the Court of Appeal reviews cases that have already been litigated and decided at trial. The Court's role is not to hold a second trial. Instead, the Court's role is to examine and, if necessary, to reverse or vary the judgments it considers on appeal. The Court does not decide legal issues in the abstract. In other words, the Court does not give its opinion on theoretical questions, except in the special case of references ordered by the provincial government under the Court of Appeal Reference Act.
As a general rule, the Court of Appeal exercises its jurisdiction through panels of three judges. However, this number may be increased – usually to five – where the Chief Justice deems this to be appropriate. The Code of Civil Procedure does not limit the maximum number of judges sitting on a panel. It is possible, therefore, 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, although this has not happened in the recent history of the Court.
The Code of Civil Procedure and several specific statutes also provide for some matters to be heard by a judge of the Court of Appeal sitting alone (usually referred to as a judge in chambers). For example, a judge sitting alone may issue case management decisions or hear applications for leave to appeal or for release from custody of a convicted accused pending appeal. A judge in chambers may also defer any such decision to a panel of the Court.
Numerous federal and provincial statutes provide for a right to appeal as of right or with leave. The limited list below is a testament to the wide variety of topics that appeal judges are called upon to decide throughout their careers: