Inherent Jurisdiction

inherent jurisdiction

In the recent WVA case of Reznik v. Matty, 2013 BCSC 1346 Mr. Justice Funt reviewed the law relating to the inherent jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of British Columbia.

The case involved an estate worth approximately $650,000 consisting of about $100,000 in cash or near cash and approximately $550,000 in real estate. The testator died in December 2000 and the beneficiaries are his 4 children one of whom is the executor of the estate. The 3 beneficiaries who are not the executor applied to the court requesting an immediate interim distribution of some of the estate’s assets. The executor beneficiary argued the court did not have the ability to make such an order.

Mr. Justice Funt reviewed the distinction between inherent jurisdiction and general jurisdiction. Citing Isaac H. Jacob at paragraph 18 of his reasons, the difference between inherent, general and statutory jurisdiction is described:

“The general jurisdiction of the High Court as a superior court of record is, broadly speaking, unrestricted and unlimited in all matters of substantive law, both civil and criminal, except in so far as that has been taken away in unequivocal terms by statutory enactment. Its general jurisdiction thus includes the exercise of an inherent jurisdiction.

Moreover the term “inherent jurisdiction of the court” is not used in contradistinction to the jurisdiction conferred on the court by statute. The contrast is not between the common law jurisdictions of the court on the one hand and statutory on the other, for the court may exercise its inherent jurisdiction even in respect of matters which are regulated by statute or by rule of court, so long as he can do so without contravening any statutory provision. There is a an important difference between the nature of the inherent jurisdiction of the court and its statutory jurisdiction. The source of the statutory jurisdiction of the court is of course the statute itself, which will define the limits within which such jurisdiction is to be exercised, where the source of the inherent jurisdiction of the court is derived from its nature as a court of law, so that the limits of such jurisdiction or not easy to defined and indeed appear to lead definition.”

Mr. Justice Funt goes on to cite Viscount Haldane writing for the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in Reference re: Matrimonial Causes Act (Alb.) for the proposition that there is a presumption that a court will be able to deal with a matter unless there is another court that is required to. Viscount Haldane, in that case, cited Justice Stewart of the Alberta Court of Appeal for the following:

“I think, apparent that if no special court is directed to administer that law than the law falls within the jurisdiction of those ancient courts whose immemorial duty and function it was to administer the laws of the realm in which the king was bound to implement the promise of the Magna Carta.”

Finally, Mr. Justice Funt cites Justice Brock of the Ontario Court of Appeal in Wellesley St. East Ltd. v. Fundy Bay Builders Ltd.,

“As a superior court of general jurisdiction, the Supreme Court of Ontario has all the powers that are necessary to do justice between the parties. Except were provided specifically to the contrary, the court’s jurisdiction is unlimited and unrestricted insubstantial law in civil matters.”

Justice Funt finds at paragraph 28 he has the ability to make the order requested by the 3 beneficiaries saying that because the litigants have framed to the matters and provided the evidence they have chosen, the court has jurisdiction to do justice whether based on the common law, equity or statute.

If you have a question about inherent jurisdiction, contact us.

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