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What do Judges and Justices of the Peace do?

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What do Judges do?What do Justices of the Peace do?

What do Judges do?

Judges work in three areas of jurisdiction which include:

  • the overwhelming majority of criminal and youth criminal justice cases in the province
  • certain types of family law cases, and
  • offences committed under provincial statutes.

Criminal Law Jurisdiction

Judges preside:

  • over virtually all adult criminal and youth criminal justice trials and sentencing hearings in Ontario – with the exception of jury trials and certain serious criminal offences, which are heard by the Superior Court of Justice
  • in preliminary hearings in criminal and youth criminal justice trials (a “preliminary hearing” is a court hearing to decide whether the Crown has sufficient evidence to hold a trial. At the end of the hearing, the accused will either be discharged or ordered to stand trial.)
  • in bail hearings (although, in Ontario, the vast majority of bail hearings are conducted by justices of the peace)

Further, judges also have all the criminal law jurisdiction of a justice of the peace.  This means, for example, that a judge can issue search warrants.  As specified by the Criminal Code, certain warrants can only be issued by a judge, including “DNA warrants” (a warrant to seize bodily substances for forensic DNA analysis) and “general warrants” (a warrant that authorizes a search that, if done without a warrant, would violate s. 8 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as an unreasonable search or seizure).

An adult criminal or youth criminal justice trial presided over by a judge is a court of competent jurisdiction under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  This means that a judge has the authority to grant the range of remedies provided under section 24 of the Charter.   During a trial, a judge will hear and weigh evidence, then deliver a final decision and, if a defendant is convicted, impose a sentence.

Family Law Jurisdiction

Ontario Court of Justice judges sit only in family court in jurisdictions in Ontario that do not have a Family Court Branch of the Superior Court of Justice.  In these “Unified Family Court” locations, the Family Court of the Superior Court has jurisdiction in all family law matters.  Further, the Superior Court has complete jurisdiction throughout the province over divorce and the division of property.

In those parts of the province in which Unified Family Courts do not exist, judges of the Ontario Court of Justice have jurisdiction over the following family law matters:

  • child protection matters under the Child and Family Services Act
  • spousal /partner support, and
  • custody, access and support relating to children.

Provincial Offences Jurisdiction

Most provincial offence matters are heard by justices of the peace.  However, judges may also hear provincial offence trials.  In addition, they hear appeals in provincial offence matters.

Appointment of Judges

For information concerning the appointment process, including qualifications of judges, see the Courts of Justice Act.


What do Justices of the Peace do?

Justices of the Peace work broadly in two main areas of jurisdiction – criminal law and provincial offences.

Criminal Law Jurisdiction

Justices of the peace preside:

  • over virtually all bail hearings in the province, and
  • in first appearance and remand courts (appearances that occur prior to a trial).

They also:

  • receive informations (the documents that commence criminal proceedings)
  • issue process in the form of summonses or warrants
  • deal with applications for the issuance of search warrants and production orders under the Criminal Code
  • deal with applications for peace bonds
  • consider applications for warrants to seize weapons, and
  • conduct weapons disposition and prohibition hearings.

Provincial Offences Jurisdiction

Justices of the peace exercise jurisdiction over the whole range of provincial offences and offences against municipal bylaws.

In this regard, their duties include:

  • issuing process
  • receiving applications for warrants, and
  • presiding over provincial offence trials under statutes including the Highway Traffic Act, the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the Trespass to Property Act, the Safe Streets Act, the Environmental Protection Act, the Liquor Licence Act, and the Consumer Protection Act, and the Dog Owners’ Liability Act, and the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act.

A provincial offences trial court presided over by a justice of the peace is a court of competent jurisdiction under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  This means that the justice of the peace has authority to grant the range of remedies provided under section 24 of the Charter.  During a trial, the justice of the peace will hear and weigh evidence, then deliver a final decision and, if a defendant is convicted, impose a sentence.

Other Duties

In addition to the duties listed above, justices of the peace have a collection of other responsibilities, including:

  • conducting hearings and making orders under the Mental Health Act for examination of a person by a physician
  • conducting hearings and issuing warrants to apprehend a child pursuant to the Child and Family Services Act for children in need of protection
  • presiding at trials of municipal by-law infractions, and
  • presiding at trials prosecuted under certain federal legislation, including the Canada Shipping Act and the Motor Vehicle Transport Act.

Appointment of Justices of the Peace

For information concerning the appointment process, including qualifications of justices of the peace, see the Justices of the Peace Act.