Decisions of the Court
Release of Decisions of the Court
The decision of the Court is sometimes rendered at the conclusion of the hearing, but more often, judgment is reserved to enable the judges to write considered reasons. Decisions of the Court need not be unanimous; a majority may decide, with dissenting reasons given by the minority. Each judge may write reasons in any case if he or she chooses to do so.
When a judgment is delivered in a case reserved for decision, the parties are given notice and the formal judgment is deposited with the Registrar together with all the written opinions and a headnote (short summary of the case and the holdings of the judge(s) writing) in both official languages. Copies of the reasons for judgment may then be obtained at the Court Records Office. Reasons for judgment, in both official languages, are published in the Supreme Court Reports which are available for reference in the Court's Library, located on the third floor of the Courthouse.
Normally, decisions of the Court are released at 9:45 a.m. (Eastern Time). Advance notice of the release of decisions - in both appeals and in applications for leave to appeal - is given by news release. News releases announcing judgments include a direct link to the reasons for judgment. You may subscribe to receive News Releases issued by the Court.
Reasons for judgment are also available electronically in both English and French shortly after the decision has been released. Judgments can be searched on the LexUM site.
While the media, in general terms, has a constitutional right to publish information about appeals, there are limitations on this right. The Court may (and frequently must) impose a publication ban, for example to protect the privacy of victims and witnesses or as required by legislation, for example to ensure the names of young offenders are not disclosed.
In order to check whether there is a publication ban in effect in a particular case, visit the SCC Case Information page and enter the case name or docket number. If there is a publication ban in place, this will be indicated on the "Docket" page.
There are serious consequences for breaching a publication ban. When reporting decisions of the Court, members of the media bear the responsibility of ensuring that the terms of any publication ban are respected. On occasion, it may be prudent to obtain legal advice on whether publication is permitted.
The Executive Legal Officer holds a pre-session briefing in the Court's Press Room at the beginning of each new session to give an overview of the issues in the cases to be heard. Notice of the pre-hearing briefing is given to the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery (CPPG), which in turn, provides notice to its members. Any member of the media who is not a member of the CPPG, may ask to have his or her name added to a mailing list for direct notice by informing the Executive Legal Officer.
Decisions on an Appeal
Whenever the Court issues reasons for decision on an appeal, a media briefing is held to assist members of the media to understand the reasons for decision. No briefing is held if a decision is rendered, without reasons, from the bench. Briefings are held in the Court's Press Room on the morning the decision is released. Copies of the reasons for judgment are distributed at the briefing. Copies of the factums (memoranda of argument) of the parties and interveners are available for reference in the Press Room.
Advance notice of media briefings is sent to the CPPG which informs its members. Media briefings are for information only and are not for attribution. Any member of the media who is not a member of the CPPG, may ask to have his or her name added to a mailing list for direct notice by informing the Executive Legal Officer.
Leave to Appeal Applications
No media briefing is held for decisions on applications for leave to appeal. Decisions on applications for leave to appeal are made public through news releases.
In order for leave to appeal to be granted by the Court, a case must be of national or public importance or involve conflicting decisions on some point of law between two or more provincial courts of appeal. Some of the appeals heard by the Court attract a higher than usual level of public and media interest and due to their complexity could benefit from a longer briefing. As a result of consultations with the CPPG, the Court has implemented a procedure for holding lock-ups in certain high-profile, complex cases. A lock-up may be granted by the Court, but only if counsel for the parties consent and the Court decides it appropriate. See Notice to the Profession on Press Lock-Up.
When a lock-up is held, accredited members of the CPPG are briefed on the decision before it is released to the general public. Only accredited members of the CPPG are permitted to attend. Counsel for the parties and interveners may choose to attend a separate counsel lock-up. Everyone who enters the lock-up must surrender all electronic communications devices such as cell phones and handheld communication devices, and must undertake not to communicate with anyone outside the lock-up until the lock-up ends. The lock-up ends when the decision is released to the public, which is usually 9:45 a.m. ET.
Requests for lock-ups are made by the President of the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery or his or her designate. More details are available in the Procedure for Lock-Ups.