Court System in Ontario

Legal Services


The Court of Ontario has two divisions:

  1. the Ontario Court of Justice (the lower or provincial division)
  2. the Superior Court of Justice (the higher or general division)

The Superior Court of Justice hears more serious cases. Most cases appear before the Ontario Court of Justice.

Within these two divisions, there are specialized branches. For example, Family Court and Small Claims Court are both branches of the Superior Court of Justice.

If a court decision or ruling is questioned, that case can go to appeal. An appeal is generally heard by a court that is senior to the one that made the first ruling.

Many appeals are heard by the Ontario Court of Appeal. This court is separate from other Ontario courts and usually provides the final ruling on a legal issue.

It is sometimes possible to appeal an Ontario Court of Appeal decision before the Supreme Court of Canada. The Supreme Court is the country's highest court.

Family Court

Family Courts are part of the Superior Court of Justice and hear cases related to family law, especially in the following areas:

  1. divorce
  2. division of property at the end of a relationship
  3. child and spousal support
  4. cust ody of, and access to children
  5. adoption
  6. child protection

This court system is being expanded across the province. Family Courts provide support services such as mediation, parenting education programs, supervised access centres and Family Law Information Centres. Family Law Information Centres provide publications, referrals to services in the community and help with the forms needed to go to court.

Small Claims Court

Small Claims Court is the busiest branch of the Superior Court of Justice. Small Claims Courts can be an easier,faster and less expensive way to settle disagreements over money or property. In small claims cases, it is very common to represent yourself instead of hiring a lawyer. These courts only hear cases where the value of the claim is below C$25,000, not including interest and costs.


Judges in Ontario are appointed by either the provincial or federal Ministry of the Attorney General. Federally appointed judges serve the Superior Court of Justice and the Ontario Court of Appeal. Provincially appointed judges serve the Ontario Court of Justice.

Judges have all practised law for a minimum of ten years before being appointed. Judges at all levels of the justice system have to be impartial and are independent of the provincial and federal governments.

For more information:

  1. Court Addresses and Hours| - this page of the Ministry of the Attorney General Web site provides contact information for Ontario courts as well as hours of operation.
  2. Court Services Division Overview - describes the work of the Court Services Division of the Ministry of the Attorney General. It includes information on the expansion of the family court system and on efforts to reduce the backlog of cases in the court system.
  3. Do You Have a Complaint? - describes how to file a complaint against a provincial judge and provides information on professional conduct standards and the role of judges within Ontario's justice system. Provided by the Ontario Judicial Council.
  4. Guide to the Ontario Courts - this guide links to the home pages of the Ontario Court of Justice, the Superior Court of Justice and the Court of Appeal. Contact information for Ontario's courts and to the Ontario Judicial Council are also provided.
  5. Structure of the Courts - An overview of the court system in Canada and the jurisdiction at each level. From the Canadian Superior Court Judges Association.
  6. Justice Ontario - This website has information about Ontario's legal system, including family and criminal law, lawsuits, human rights, wills and estates, and tickets and fines. Provided by the Ministry of the Attorney General.
  7. Small Claims Court Information - answers many frequently asked questions about going to Small Claims Court. The booklet also explains some Small Claims Court rules and gives definitions of legal terms. Produced by the Ministry of the Attorney General. In Adobe Acrobat format (216K).
  8. What You Should Know About Family Law in Ontario - this booklet explains important aspects of family law in plain language. It includes information about going to court. Produced by the Ministry of the Attorney General.

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