The Nunavut Court of Justice is both the superior court and territorial court of the Canadian territory of Nunavut. It is administered from the Nunavut Justice Centre (Building #510) in Iqaluit. It was established on April 1, 1999 as Canada’s only “unified” or single-level court with the consent of Canada, the Office of the Interim Commissioner of Nunavut and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. the Inuit Land Claims representative organization. Prior to the establishment of Nunavut as a separate territory justice was administered through two courts, the Territorial Court of the Northwest Territories and the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories.
The legal authority for the Nunavut Court of Justice is as follows:
An Act to amend the Nunavut Act with respect to the Nunavut Court of Justice and to amend other Acts in consequence, S.C. 1999, c. 3.
This Act conveys to the Nunavut Court of Justice all of the powers, duties and functions formerly exercised by the NWT Supreme and Territorial Courts. The Act also addresses appeals, bail, elections, preliminary inquiries, statutory review, and young offenders’ proceedings in the Nunavut Court of Justice.
The Nunavut Judicial System Implementation Act, S.N.W.T. 1998, c. 34.
This enacts a new Judicature Act and a new Justices of the Peace Act for Nunavut and repeals the Territorial Court Act effective April 1, 1999. It establishes the composition, powers and officers of the Nunavut Court of Justice and Court of Appeal and designates the Youth Justice Court of Nunavut. This Act also states certain rules of law and procedure for Nunavut cases.
Besides presiding over court proceedings in Iqaluit the judges travel as a circuit court to communities throughout the territory to conduct cases.
The Nunavut Court of Justiceprovides court services to the entire territory of Nunavut. As such, the Court travels to approximately 95% of the communities (25 out of 27communities) across the territory. The Court does not travel to the smaller communities, (those which do not have RCMP detachments) where very little crime is reported.
The Court travels to communities depending on need, and can visit as frequently as every 6 weeks, or as infrequently as every 2 years. The circuit court can travel to multiple communities in a week depending on the number of cases and charges in each community. In an average week, court will sit both in Iqaluit and at least one other community.
Members of the circuit court include a Judge, clerk of the court, court reporter, prosecutor and at least one defence attorney. Court workers and victim witness assistants might also travel with the circuit court depending on the cases to be heard. Interpreters are hired in the communities when possible but travel with the circuit court when necessary.
Court is held in community halls, school gyms, and in other conference facilities as available. All court proceedings in the communities are interpreted for the public. Elders sit with the Judge in the courtroom and are given the opportunity to speak with the accused following sentencing submissions and prior to the passing of sentence. The volume of cases handled in both criminal and civil jurisdiction requires the assistance not only of the resident Judiciary, but also of a wide network of deputy judges and community Justices of the Peace.