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Civil & Family Matters

Civil law – as opposed to criminal law – is the area of law that deals with disputes between people or organizations. Family law issues are included under civil law, along with many other subjects such as disputes about contracts, estates, property, commercial ventures, law applied by administrative tribunals, and torts (a wrongful act, like causing a car accident).

Parties may have a civil matter heard by a lower court or tribunal. The party who lost the case may want to have that decision reviewed by a higher court in the hope that it will be reversed or changed. In such cases, an “appeal” is made to the Court of Appeal. To start an appeal, the appellant (the party appealing a decision from a lower court or tribunal) files a notice of appeal in the Court of Appeal Registry. The respondent (the other party) files a response if he or she intends to dispute the appeal. There are many other steps in the appeal process, and these guidebooks will explain the steps and show you the forms you must file in court. Note about that: this information is specific to appeals heard in the BC Court of Appeal, and the procedure may be different for appeals heard in the Supreme Court of British Columbia (for example, for an appeal from a small claims decision).

Not every court decision can be appealed. An appeal is not a new trial. There are no witnesses or juries. You cannot present new evidence to the judges hearing the appeal (except in special circumstances). The order that you are appealing is not stayed (stopped) just because an appeal is underway. This means that unless you apply for and obtain a stay of the order, you must obey the decision of the lower court or tribunal.

The Court of Appeal justices will not change the decision under appeal just because it seems unfair or the judges disagree with it. You must prove that the decision is incorrect because the decision-maker made a mistake in understanding the facts of your case or in applying the law that applies to your case. Even if a mistake was made, you must also prove that the mistake significantly affected the outcome of your case.

Your appeal will usually be heard by a division (panel) of three judges. Both parties will have a chance to present their case to try to convince the justices either that the decision is or is not correct.

You do not have to be represented by a lawyer to appear in the Court of Appeal. But, if you represent yourself in court, it is wise to first meet with a lawyer and have him or her explain the law to you, and learn the best way to present your appeal. He or she can also explain your chances of winning or losing the appeal.

Legally reviewed: 2020/ Apr