Prior to Manitoba becoming a province of Canada in 1870, the
administration of justice was carried on by the Governor and
Council of the Hudson's Bay Company. By 1835, the Governor and
Council of Assiniboia met regularly as Quarterly General Courts.
A Court House and jail or gaol, in those days, was built at Lower
Fort Garry, and the area known as the Red River Settlement was
divided into four judicial districts. Each judicial district
had a magistrate or justice of the peace appointed to hold a
quarterly court for the trial of minor criminal offences and
matters involving debts. More serious criminal cases and cases
involving debts over £2 and appeals from the decisions of the
magistrates were heard and determined by the Quarterly General
Court of the Governor and Council. The judicial districts were
readjusted in 1837 and there were then three judicial districts:
the Upper, Middle and Lower. The Quarterly General Court was
sometimes called "The Supreme Court". In 1864, a resolution of
the General Court was passed declaring that the proceedings of
that court should be regulated by the Laws of England. Both civil
and criminal cases were tried by the General Courts. Proceedings
in criminal matters were generally entitled "The Public Interest
versus" the accused, but in 1864, with the adoption of the laws
of England, the term "The Queen" was used instead.
In 1871, an Act establishing the Supreme Court in the Province of Manitoba was passed by the first session of the legislature of Manitoba. The Supreme Court was to be held by a judge called the "Chief Justice". The court was to meet at Winnipeg four times a year and at such other times as the Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba might appoint. Manitoba was then divided into four counties and a sheriff was appointed for the whole of Manitoba and deputy sheriffs were appointed for each county. Petty Sessions consisting of justices called the "Justices of the Petty Sessions" were also established and these courts had jurisdiction over all debts or claims for damage not exceeding twenty-five dollars. In 1872, the Petty Sessions were abolished and County Courts were established in their place.
In 1872, the name of the Supreme Court was changed to "The Court of Queen's Bench". The Court of Queen's Bench was to consist of a Chief Justice and two other justices, any one of whom would exercise all powers and jurisdiction of the court, except when the court sat as a Court of Error and Appeal, when two or more of them would be needed to form a quorum. The first Chief Justice was Alexander Morris, who was appointed on July 2, 1872, and who later became the Lieutenant Governor or Manitoba. The first two justices of the Court of Queen's Bench were James McKeagney and Louis Betournay. The first sitting of the Court of Queen's Bench was on October 8, 1872. The appellate jurisdiction of the Court of Queen's Bench was transferred to the Manitoba Court of Appeal when that court was established in 1906.
The County Courts were to be held in each county of Manitoba six times each year. The County Courts were presided over by the Chief Justice or one of the justices of the Court of Queen's Bench. The judges of the Court of Queen's Bench presided over the County Courts until 1882 when County Court judges were first appointed. In 1972, court proceedings presided over by magistrates and justices of the peace became sittings of the Provincial Court of Manitoba, with the Chief Magistrate of Manitoba becoming the Chief Judge of the Provincial Court of Manitoba. In 1984, the County Courts were merged with the Court of Queen's Bench, and the judges of the County Courts became Court of Queen's Bench judges. These last two events established the current court structure in Manitoba of the three levels of court: two trial courts - the Provincial Court and the Court of Queen's Bench and one appellate court - the Manitoba Court of Appeal.
* Taken from "Early History of the Manitoba Courts", Professor Frederick Read, Manitoba Bar News, (1937) Vol. 10, Nos. 1&2.
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