The Nunavut Court of Justice - Formative Evaluation

3. Background to the Nunavut Court of Justice

3. Background to the Nunavut Court of Justice

3.1. Introduction

Nunavut, Canada's third territory, was created effective April 1, 1999. The Nunavut Act created the Nunavut Court of Justice (NCJ), a unified Court system, in order to provide an efficient and accessible Court structure capable of responding to the unique needs of the territory, while at the same time maintaining substantive and procedural rights equivalent to those enjoyed elsewhere in Canada. Nunavut is the only Canadian jurisdiction with a unified Court.

3.2. Legal Authorities and Rationale

The NCJ was created on April 1, 1999 at the time of division of the Northwest Territories into two distinct territories. The legal authority for the Nunavut Court is the following:

The NCJ judges were sworn in immediately after midnight on April 1, 1999 in order to ensure the new jurisdiction of Nunavut had a Court in place as constitutionally required. The NCJ was designed to be a single level or unified Court, the first of its kind in Canada. The realities facing the NCJ are both unique and challenging. Vast geographic distances, a scattered population, and cultural distinctiveness are factors that face the Court on a daily basis and that have required ongoing sensitivity and innovation. However, while sensitive to the needs of Nunavummiut, the NCJ has also had to maintain its fundamental commitment to Canada's high standards in the administration of a fair, equal and effective justice system.

3.3. Objectives and Intended Impacts

Key informants in the federal and territorial Departments of Justice, as well as in the Nunavut judiciary, agreed in consultations preparatory to the evaluation that the general objectives of the new unified Court were as follows:

More specifically, according to key informants, the major intended impacts of the new Court were seen as follows:

3.4. Comparison of Court Structures: Northwest Territories and Nunavut

Nunavut has its own Court system, distinct from that of the Northwest Territories. This section explains the Court system that was in place prior to April 1, 1999 and the structure that replaces it. All cases commencing after April 1, 1999 arising in Nunavut are heard by the NCJ. All cases and actions initiated prior to April 1, 1999 continued to be heard by the Northwest Territories Courts unless specifically transferred to the Nunavut Court.

Figure 1 below provides a comparative overview of the Court structures in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.

Comparative overview of the Court structures in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut

[ Description of Figure 1 ]

3.5. Structure of the Nunavut Court of Justice and Linkages with Other Bodies

The linkages between the NCJ and other agencies, departments and organizations are shown in Figure 2, below. Figure 2 is intended to show linkages, not lines of authority. Community Justice Committees, for example, are entities created by and responsible to the Nunavut Department of Justice and to their communities; Crown prosecutors are federal employees; and Elders are independent, although they may assist the Court in various ways.

The linkages between the NCJ and other agencies, departments and organizations

[ Description of Figure 2 ]

3.6. Adult and Youth Criminal Court – Logic Model

The activities involved in adult and youth criminal matters are described in Chart 1 below in the order that they would be expected to occur in criminal proceedings.

Chart 1: Adult and Youth Criminal Court Logic Model

Bail Hearings

First Appearances and Remands

Preliminary Inquiries



Appeals to NCJ

Judicial Review

Inputs JP hears and considers

Crown reviews evidence to make election (if applicable).

Hear evidence on the offence, risk of flight and possible danger to the community posed by releasing the accused.

The accused is read the charge and informed of Crown's election

A plea is entered

The accused election is made (if applicable)

A contested remand is argued.

Hear Crown's case.

Crown and defence present case

Witnesses are examined

Evidence is presented to assist the Court in determining sentence

The Court hears arguments on the JPs' decision

New evidence may be heard (where applicable).

Arguments are heard on decision of NCJ judge.

Outputs Pre-bail hearing process included
  • Release
  • Charge is laid
  • Election is made

Accused is released on conditions or remains in custody

The matter is remanded to another date

A hearing date is set

A plea is accepted

Cases where the Crown has not met its burden are discharged

Guilty or not guilty.

A sentence is imposed.

The JPs' decision is upheld or over-turned

A new decision may be entered by the Court.

The earlier decision is upheld or overturned.

Intended Short-term Outcomes Minimize the number of charges quashed on the basis of procedural error on the part of Court personnel

Appropriate release decisions are made based on NCJ review

Accused persons are brought before the Court at the earliest possible date to determine when and how the matter will be proceeded with

Preliminary hearings occur in a timely fashion and the Crown either meets the burden of proof to commit the accused for trial or the accused is discharged

Trials fixed on a timely basis

Delays not increased due to a lack of Courts/ judges

To have procedurally and substantively "fair" trials

Just and appropriate sentences given

Use of alternatives to incarceration when appropriate

Timely and "fair" determination of appeals

Timely access to the Court and a "fair" decision

Equal access to reviews

3.7. Civil and Family Matters – Logic Model

Activities that arise in civil and family matters are outlined in Chart 2 below in the order that they may be expected to occur.

Chart 2: Civil and Family Matters Logic Model
  Initiating Proceedings

Ex parte and emergency hearings

Pre-trial conferences and motions


Enforcement Proceedings

Appeals from Government Agencies

Inputs Issuing claims, actions and notices

Filing responses

Scheduling hearing dates

Party or parties argue the necessity of the expedient hearing

Evidence is reviewed

Pre-trial issues are discussed and argued

Evidence may be introduced

Evidence is presented and witnesses are examined

Case law is argued

Evidence is heard on the nature of the default

The decision of the tribunal is reviewed and case law is argued

Outputs - Applicants/
plaintiffs commence legal actions and respondents/
defendants file documents defending their rights

An interim order is granted protecting assets or persons

Negotiated settlement

Issues for trial are narrowed

A decision is rendered by the Court on liability, custody, access, etc.

An order for enforcement is entered

The former decision is upheld or sent back to the agency or tribunal for decision

Intended Short-term Outcomes Increased capacity to process cases

Greater reach to communities

No substantial increase in number of successful appeals

Increased access in remote communities to this type of hearing

There is a larger percentage of negotiated settlements

The number of issues for the trial judge is reduced

There is no decrease in the number of small claims matters appealed

There is no increase in the Court's ability to schedule trials

The delay in scheduling a hearing is not increased

The delay in obtaining a hearing date is not increased

Expected Short-term Outcomes Increase in the number of civil and family actions Increase in the number of emergency and ex parte hearings Increase in the number of pre-trial conferences Increase in the number of civil and family trials

Fair and just outcomes
Increase in the number of enforcement actions in relation to the increase in civil actions Increase in the number of appeals from administrative tribunals