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Source: "The Supreme Court of Nova Scotia and Its Judges 1754-1978" Nova Scotia Barrister's Society


In 1713 Nova Scotia was ceded to the British Crown. In 1721 "a General Court or Court of Judicature" was established at Annapolis Royal, consisting of the Governor and his Council. This court continued to exercise civil and criminal jurisdiction until the establishment of a regular court in 1749 after the founding of Halifax.

A committee of the Council in 1749 reported that the judicial system of Virginia was the "most proper to be observed in the Province." Two courts were established:

The General Court composed of the Governor and Council, with civil, criminal and exchequer jurisdiction and to hear appeals from the County Court.

A County Court composed of five Justices of the Peace sitting monthly with jurisdiction over the whole province, which then comprised one county. This court had jurisdiction over common law matters except those punishable by death or outlawry. The name was changed in 1752 to the Inferior Court of Common Pleas.

Question 15 Question 16 There was also at this time a Court of General sessions similar to courts of the same name in England.

1754: the Hon. Jonathan Belcher was appointed Chief Justice of Nova Scotia, and from this time we find the General Court abolished and a new judiciary erected in its place in which the Chief Justice for some years was the sole judge.
1764: two Assistant Judges were added to the court
1774: Circuits were established and sittings were held at Halifax, Horton (King's), Annapolis and Cumberland.
1794: the Counties of Sydney, Lunenburg, Queen's and Shelburne were added.
1820: County of Cape Breton added
1809: a third Assistant Judge added

Stained glass window 1873Until 1834 the presence of two judges was necessary for the hearing of every case, both civil and criminal. An Act passed in 1834 empowered any member of the court to preside and determine all issues.

In 1841 the Inferior Court of Common Pleas was abolished and its jurisdiction transferred to the Supreme Court, and one more judge (the Hon. Thomas C. Haliburton) was added to the Supreme Court making a total of five. Circuits were established requiring the court to sit regularly at Halifax and sixteen other locations. In 1870 two judges were added making seven, its number until 1969.

The County Courts of Nova Scotia were established in 1875 with a separate court for each of the seven districts. All judges are federally appointed. Since the Judicature Act of 1972 county court judges were also appointed Local Judges of the Trial Division of the Supreme Court and as such have extensive powers.

The Supreme Court was substantially reorganized and enlarged in 1966. It was divided into a Trial Division, consisting of a Chief Justice an five other judges, and an Appeal Division consisting of the Chief Justice of Nova Scotia, who was Chief Justice of that Division, and two other judges.

Later these courts became the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia.

As of 2001 The Court of Appeal consists of the Chief Justice of Nova Scotia (who is also the Chief Justice of the Court of Appeal) and seven other judges. Semi-retired (supernumerary) judges may also form part of the Court at any given time. The Supreme Court comprises a Chief Justice, an Associate Chief Justice and twenty-one justices. There are also six supernumerary or semi-retired judges.

For information on a specific court click on the appropriate link at the top of the page.