The original provincial courthouse was built in 1894. It stood on the northwest corner of Hamilton Street and Victoria Avenue. It was demolished in 1965 and the Avord Towers building was constructed. The present courthouse was built in 1965 and was the last major commission of renowned Regina architect, Francis H. Portnall.
I. Early Beginnings: Administration of Justice by the Mounted Police
Initially, the North-West Mounted Police were in charge of administering justice in the Canadian prairies.
Then in 1873, Parliament enacted legislation that conferred limited judicial powers on certain officers of the police force. Every Commissioner and every Superintendent of Police was deemed to be an “ex-officio” Justice of the Peace.
Provision was also made for the appointment of one or more “fit and proper person or persons” to act as Stipendiary Magistrates. They did not have tenure and could be dismissed “at pleasure” by the federal cabinet.
The Magistrates performed the same functions as a Justice of the Peace, yet had the power of two Justices of the Peace, which gave them the power to try certain summary offences. They had the power to sentence convicted individuals for “any period less than two years” in jail or place of confinement.
Two Stipendiary Magistrates had the power and authority to sit together as a Court to hear and determine cases for which the maximum possible punishment did not exceed seven years imprisonment.
If an individual was charged with an offence punishable by death, then Justices of the Peace and Stipendiary Magistrates had the power to send the offender to Manitoba to be jailed and tried. By 1883, there were six Stipendiary Magistrates.
II. The Development of the Judiciary
In 1886, Parliament established the Supreme Court of the North-West Territories, which replaced the Stipendiary Magistrates with judges. The Supreme Court sat in Regina and consisted of five puisne judges, all of whom were appointed by the federal cabinet. (According to Black’s Law Dictionary, “puisne” is the title formerly used in English common-law courts for a judge other than the chief judge.)
Current or former judges of a Superior Court in any Province in Canada, Stipendiary Magistrates or lawyers who had practiced in Canada for at least 10 years could be appointed to the Court. The five members of the first Court were Justices Thomas H. McGuire, Hugh Richardson, James F. MacLeod, Charles Rouleau and Edward Wetmore. Both Hugh Richardson and James F. MacLeod had previously been Stipendiary Magistrates.
The Supreme Court was the court of record and possessed original and appellate jurisdiction over both criminal and civil matters. Unlike the Stipendiary Magistrates, the justices of the Supreme Court had tenure. They were appointed on “good behaviour” and were removable only for cause by the Governor General.
On September 1, 1905, The Saskatchewan Act came into force and created the province of Saskatchewan. However, the Supreme Court of the North-West Territories continued in existence until it was replaced by the Supreme Court of Saskatchewan in 1907.
III. The Supreme Court
The Supreme Court of Saskatchewan was established by The Judicature Act, 1907 which came into force on September 16, 1907. The Act stipulated that the Court was to consist of the Chief Justice and four puisne judges. The judges were required to reside in Regina, the seat of government for the province. Chief Justice Edward L. Wetmore presided over the first Court, which was composed of Justices James Emile Prendergast, Henry William Newlands, Thomas Cooke Johnstone and John Henry Lamont.
Notably, Justices Prendergast and Lamont were among the first judges in the province to have law degrees. It is also interesting to note that judges of the Court were ex-officio justices of the peace and coroners for the province. In 1913, the Court was expanded to include the Chief Justice and five puisne judges.
The Court exercised both trial and appellate functions over criminal and civil matters, as there was no distinct Court of Appeal at the time. Justices of the Court could preside over trials individually, as well as hear appeals from a decision of one of their colleagues in a quorum of three.
IV. The Court of Appeal
On March 1, 1918, The Court of Appeal Act and The King’s Bench Act abolished the Supreme Court of Saskatchewan and created two new courts: the Saskatchewan Court of King’s Bench and the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal. The Court of King’s Bench performed the trial function, and the Court of Appeal assumed the appellate jurisdiction.
The Court of Appeal was to consist of the Chief Justice and three puisne judges. Sir Frederick Haultain, who had been the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Saskatchewan, continued his role as Chief Justice of the Court of Appeal and presided over puisne judges Henry Newlands, John Henry Lamont and Edward Lindsay Elwood, all of whom had been judges of the former Supreme Court of Saskatchewan. In 1922, an amendment to The Court of Appeal Act increased the number of puisne judges to four.
V. The Court Today
The number of judges on the Court remained constant until 1978, when an amendment to The Court of Appeal Act made it possible for the Lieutenant Governor in Council to increase or decrease the number of judges on the Court by proclamation. Through this process, the number of puisne judges on the Court increased to six in 1981 and then to eight in 1991. In 2007, The Court of Appeal Act was again amended to decrease the maximum number of judges who could be appointed. Today, in addition to the Chief Justice, there are six judges on the Court of Appeal.
(History of the Court prepared by The Honourable Mr. Justice W. J. Vancise, Ms. Ann Marie Melvie, Ms. Amanda Dodge and Ms. Lindsay Ferguson. The Court is also grateful to Professor Howard McConnell for providing some of the information.)