Supreme Court Statistics, 1997-2007
Last week, the Supreme Court released a statistical overview of their work from 1997 to 2007. The information is organized in five categories: (1) cases filed, (2) applications for leave submitted, (3) appeals heard, (4) appeal judgments, and (5) average time lapses. The numbers show some interesting trends over the past ten years, and provide some insight into what can be expected in the future. The full set of statistics can be read, here.
The number of cases filed increased in 2007 by over a hundred when compared with 2006. This is the greatest volume since 2001.
This jump was driven by far more applications for leave filed when compared to previous years. As the following chart illustrates, the number of applications for leave has been unpredictable over the past ten years.
Despite seeing an increase in the number of applications for leave, the SCC actually heard fewer cases in 2007 than any other year in the previous ten years. Hearings dropped sharply from 80 in 2006 to 53 in 2007 – no longer hovering around the one hundred mark which was typical in the late 1990s.
The stats also show that the SCC is taking longer to issue judgments. The average time lapse between hearing a case and issuing a judgment has steadily increased since 2004. The current time lapse of 6.6 months is far longer than the 2.8 months it took the court to issue a judgment in 1997 and 1998. What is perplexing is that the SCC also heard far more cases in 1997 (104) and 1998 (106), making for a far more busy court in the late nineties. However, when looked at in the context of the past ten years, the statistics for 1997 and 1998 are likely more of an anomaly than the present average time lapse between the hearing and the issuing of the judgment.
Perhaps the most interesting statistic revealed in 2007 is the increase in the percentage of split judgments issued by the SCC.
While the number of split judgments is not necessarily striking, when looked at as a percentage of the total number of judgments issued, the stats show that the SCC was far more divided in 2007 than previous years.
This is further illustrated by the following chart, which shows the deep drop in the percentage of unanimous judgments.
That being said, it may be too premature to conclude that the SCC is more divided. There are still about 30 appeals standing for judgment. The results of those judgments may continue to show a divided court, but they also have the potential bring the percentage of unanimous judgments more in line with those seen in previous years.
The statistics show that the SCC dealt with far more applications for leave in 2007 than most previous years. They also show that, in 2007, the SCC heard fewer cases and took longer to decide them than any other year in the last decade. Perhaps more striking, the numbers also showed a court which is less unified than previous years – though, we will have to wait for the remainder of the 2007 data to be collected before coming to a final conclusion.