The Provincial Court is a successor of 13th century England's Justices of the Peace and Magistrates and the Recorders, whose office was established in 1839. These courts were recreated in Canada, and the common law of Canada includes the laws of England prior to the establishment of legislative bodies in Canada. In Saskatchewan, the common law includes the laws of the United Kingdom as they stood at 1870, when the Northwest Territories were formally transferred to Canada. This common law has, of course, been much modified by both federal and provincial statute and case law since that date.
In 1873, the Northwest Mounted Police were established and Stipendiary Magistrates for the Territories were appointed. Sitting alone, Magistrates had the power of two Justices of the Peace and could incarcerate offenders for terms not exceeding two years. In 1874, the Commissioner of the Northwest Mounted Police was empowered to act as a Magistrate, while other officials became ex-officio Justices of the Peace. In 1885, stipendiary magistrates received the title of Judge, and formed a High Court of Justice. Such a court conducted the trial of Louis Riel.
In 1905, Parliament, through The Saskatchewan Act, established the Province of Saskatchewan from the Northwest Territories. Provision was made for a new legislature, courts and an educational system. It incorporated the laws of the Northwest Territories into Saskatchewan where those laws were consistent with, or for which there was no substitute in The Saskatchewan Act.
In 1964, The Magistrates' Court Act was the first statute to constitute provincial magistrates as a formally constituted court, rather than a group of individuals exercising judicial powers.
The Provincial Court Act, R.S.S. 1978, made the court a court of record and marked the establishment of the contemporary Provincial Court of Saskatchewan.
In 1993, The Provincial Court Amendment Act, s.s. (1993), made provision for an independent Provincial Court Commission to consider and make binding recommendations with respect to matters having direct effect on judges of the Court, as well as recommendations in other areas concerning the operation of the Court. After the first Commission considered many issues and provided a report to the government, the government refused to accept any of the recommendations and the legislation establishing the commission process was repealed.
Legal action commenced against the Minister of Justice, but after lengthy discussions, a settlement was reached that resulted in the passage of The Provincial Court Act, 1998. The Act provided for a new independent commission process to consider and make recommendations to the government regarding the operation of the Court and, in particular, with respect to judges of the Court.
The Provincial Court of Saskatchewan, through its individual judges, continues to develp and seek new innovative solutions within the framework of existing legislation to make alternative remedies available to all citizens, and bring about a more harmonious relationship between all individuals coming before the Court seeking protection or redress.
1. Restorative Justice
Sentencing circles in Saskatchewan began with Judge C. Fafard in the early 90’s. Judge Fafard conducted a healing circle regarding Dean Martin Stewart at Sandy Bay. His published decision of a 1995 case set out guidelines regarding applications for sentencing circles. Other judges have adopted this procedure throughout the province, and Judge L. Smith in particular has held more than 300 circles around the province. Specially designed circle courtrooms to facilitate this process were constructed in the Prince Albert and Saskatoon Courthouses in 2001. They will be used for both youth and adults. The design and furnishings copy a traditional circle setting of First Nations in Saskatchewan, but community sentencing conferences similar in principle to sentencing circles may also be conducted in those facilities.
In 1986, Judge O. Archambault presided over the first Preliminary Inquiry held in Saskatchewan in the French language.
In the fall of 2001, Judge G. Morin was appointed to reside in Prince Albert and assigned to establish and preside in northern court points where the proceedings are conducted in the Cree language.