Is the SCC Anti-Quebec?: Top Court Statistics

This weekend, I conducted a review of Supreme Court of Canada (“SCC”) rulings from the last 5 years and revealed a slight bias against Quebec and for Ontario. In 341 cases reviewed dating to 2004, I found that the top court was 24% more likely to allow an appeal arising from Quebec than it was from Ontario. The SCC allowed appeals from Ontario in 46% of cases as compared to 57% of cases from Quebec. Across the country, that figure sat at 51%.

The results from other jurisdictions were as follows:

BC: 35 of 70 appeals allowed (50%)
Alberta:: 18 of 31 appeals allowed (58%)
Saskachewan: 7 of 12 appeals allowed (58%)
Manitoba: 3 of 6 appeals allowed (50%)
Ontario: 29 of 63 appeals allowed (46%)
Quebec: 51 of 90 appeals allowed (57%)
Maritimes: 10 of 25 appeals allowed (40%)
Yukon: 0 of 1 appeal allowed (0%)
Federal Court: 20 of 43 appeals allowed (47%)
Total: 173 of 341 appeals allowed (51%)

The figures are not large enough to reveal any real statistically significant results, but anecdotally, they point out trends for court-watchers. In particular, the results would appear to dispel the impression many have about a bias against the BC Court of Appeal. In recent years, the Supreme Court has received more applications for leave to appeal from BC than any other province, but with the rate of allowed appeals at 50%, my review does not seem to indicate any bias against west coast appellate judges.

The review included all decisions from January 1, 2004 to March 24, 2009 with several caveats:

  • All non-appeal matters were excluded, such as references and procedural motions.
  • Ambiguous decisions were excluded. For example, decisions involving both an appeal and a cross-appeal were excluded if one was allowed and the other dismissed; if both the appeal and cross appeal were allowed,however, the case counted as allowed; if both were dismissed, the case was categorized as dismissed.
  • Decisions in which multiple appeals were joined counted as a single case unless the appeals arose from different provinces, in which case it counted once for each originating province.

This review follows closely behind statistics released by the SCC itself on its own workload. Of particular note is that our top court appears to have dramatically improved efficiency last year as compared to trends in recent years; whereas the number of appeals heard per year had dropped from 89 to 58 between 2005 and 2007, in 2008 the court bounced back to a total of 74 appeals heard.

Despite the increase in the number of appeals, the delay at various stages of the proceedings did not increase. The time between filing for leave to appeal and a decision on leave remained steady at an average of 3.2 months, similar to previous years. Likewise, the time between granting of leave and hearing of the appeal stayed at a average of 8.9 months, the second lowest it had been in a decade. The time between the hearing and judgment dropped to an average of 4.8 months in 2008. To some extent, however, this drop in delay in 2008 may be explained by the reduced number of appeals from the previous year, meaning a reduction in backlog. But nonetheless, one is left wondering if provincial courts might have something to learn from Canada’s top judges on procedural efficiency!

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