Series GR-1052 - British Columbia wills

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British Columbia wills

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  • textual record

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GR-1052

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  • 1861-1939 (Creation)
    Creator
    British Columbia. Supreme Court

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Originals, 27.04 m; microfilm (neg.), 1861-1939, 16 mm, 59 reels [B08945 - B08993]

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Biographical history

The Supreme Court of British Columbia is the province's superior trial court. The Supreme Court is a court of general and inherent jurisdiction which can hear any type of case, civil or criminal. It hears most appeals from the Provincial Court in civil and criminal cases and appeals from arbitration. A party may appeal a decision of the Supreme Court to the Court of Appeal. The BC Attorney General is responsible for BC’s judicial system.

The Supreme Court Act (RSBC. 1996, c. 443), provides for a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, an Associate Chief Justice, and 90 other justices. The legislation also provides for supernumerary judges who sit hearing cases part-time. There are also 13 Supreme Court masters who hear and dispose of a wide variety of applications in chambers. The Supreme Court also has a Registrar and a District Registrar who hear assessments relating to bills of costs, reviews lawyers' accounts, settles orders, references of various types and deals with bankruptcy discharge applications. Supreme Court judges sit throughout BC and travel on circuit through the year. https://www.courts.gov.bc.ca/supreme_court/about_the_supreme_court/ 27/12/2018

The Supreme Court of British Columbia was formally established 29 March 1870 when the hitherto separate Supreme Court of the Mainland of British Columbia (previously the Supreme Court of Civil Justice of British Columbia, est. 8 Jun 1859 [1] ) and Supreme Court of Vancouver Island (previously the Supreme Court of Civil Justice of Vancouver Island, est. 4 April 1856 [2] ) were merged under the terms of the “The Supreme Courts Ordinance, 1869” [3] as enacted by “The Courts Merger Ordinance, 1870” [4] , becoming the Supreme Court of British Columbia in which was vested “all the jurisdiction, powers and authorities of the two … Supreme Courts, and of the Judges thereof”. The rules, practices and procedures of each court thus remained in force, although under a single Chief Justice (Matthew Baillie Begbie) and an additional Puisne Judge (HPP Crease, appointed under the provisions of the Ordinance.

When BC joined Confederation and became a province of Canada on 20 July 1871, the federal government assumed – under the BNA Act – the responsibility for the appointment and salaries of the judges of the Supreme Court and County Courts. Under the BNA Act, however, the power to “make laws in relation to … the Administration of Justice in the Province, including the constitution, maintenance, and organization of the Provincial Courts both of Civil and Criminal Jurisdiction, and including procedure in Civil matters in those Courts” was assigned exclusively to provincial legislatures.

The decade from 1872 to 1882 marked the transformation of the Supreme Court from its colonial origins to a provincial superior court within a federal framework, albeit not without “legislative, judicial and constitutional bickering” [5] over the respective jurisdiction, status and powers of the Supreme Court of BC, Supreme Court Judges, and the provincial legislature and executive. Ultimately, 3 hotly contested Acts - Better Administration of Justice Act, Judicature Act, and Judicial District Act [6] – enacted in 1878 and 1879, in effect in 1880 and 1881, and reinforced by the Local Administration of Justice Act of 1881 [7] - formed the basis for the Supreme Court of BC as it exists today. The Supreme Court of Canada decision on the three Acts confirmed that the SCBC was a provincial court within the meaning section 92(14) of the BNA Act (not a federal court as argued by Begbie and Crease) that the provincial legislature could make rules governing procedure in the SCBC in all matters within provincial jurisdiction and could delegate this power to the LG in Council, and that the Judicial Districts Act was intra vires. Subsequently, 4 judicial districts were established (each to have a Registry and a District Registrar)[8], the number of SC judges increased to 4, the new government-initiated Supreme Court Rules of 1880 approved by the legislature, and an appellate court created within the Supreme Court which functioned from 1881 until 1910 when the Court of Appeal was established.

In the Consolidated Acts of 1888 (in force February 7, 1889) 25 Acts (in whole or in part) – 5 from the pre-confederation period and part of the 1871 “Revised Laws” and the remainder provincial legislation from 1872-1888 were combined in the first Supreme Court Act [9]. This Act remained in force (with amendments) until replaced by the Supreme Court Act of 1904 [10] which, with amendments, continued in force until replaced by the Supreme Court Act of 1989 [11]. A list of acts, ordinances and proclamations relating to the Supreme Court is appended.

Court procedure is governed by the Supreme Court Rules. A historical overview can be found at https://www.courthouselibrary.ca/how-we-can-help/our-legal-knowledge-base/court-rules-british-columbia.

As a court of record, the Supreme Court is required to keep records of judgments and other decisions. The first mention of filing of records appears in the Local Administration of Justice Act of 1881, stating that all records and papers, etc. connected with court proceedings were to be filed in the respective registry and were the responsibility of the District Registrar.

Notes :
[1] Initially called the Court of British Columbia. The Proclamation of 8 June 1859 designated it as the Supreme Court of Civil Justice of British Columbia.
[2] The Act passed 2 December 1853 by the Legislative Council (Vancouver Island) to establish a Supreme Court of Civil Justice for the Colony was ruled invalid. An Imperial Order-in-Council (UK Privy Council Order) of 4 April 1856, establishing a Supreme Court of Civil Justice of the Colony of Vancouver’s Island replaced the 1853 Act.
[3] BC Legislative Council Ordinance No. 8, 1 Mar 1869.
[4] BC Legislative Council Ordinance No. 8, 22 Apr 1870.
[5] Hamar Foster, “The Struggle for the Supreme Court: Law and Politics in British Columbia 1871-1885” in Knafla, Louis A., ed., Law and Justice in a New Land: Essays in Western Canadian Legal History (Carswell, 1986), p. 181
SBC 1878 c.20, SBC 1879 c.12, and SBC 1878 c.13
[6] SBC 1878 c.20, SBC 1879 c.12, and SBC 1878 c.13
[7] SBC 1881 c.1
[8] In addition to the Supreme Court Registrar, originally based in Victoria and now in Vancouver
[9] RSBC 1888 c.31 Full title: An Act respecting the Constitution, Practice and Procedure of the Supreme Court of British Columbia, and for other Purposes relating to the Administration of Justice.
[10] SBC 1903-04 c.15. Previous Act repealed as RSBC 1897 c.56
[11] SBC 1989 c.40 (eff. 1 July 1990). Previous Act repealed as RSBC 1979 c.397.

Custodial history

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Wills probated in British Columbia, numbers 1-31,200.

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Transferred from Court Records Management Centre, 1982.

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There are no access restrictions.

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Accession number(s): 83-1451; G82-002

General note

The Central Will Registry in the Court Services Branch was the repository for wills probated in the province until the mid 1980s. These wills are accessed by numbers obtained from the indexes in GR-1417 under the column titled "remarks". See GR-1574, GR-2009 and GR-3669 for later wills.

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