UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

For the better administration of justice : county court reform in late-nineteenth-century British Columbia Clark , Adrian Stephen


This thesis seeks to explain how civil procedure legislation enacted in British Columbia in the 1870s was motivated by a desire to make the province's county courts conform to the requirements of an expanding commercial community. The county courts system had evolved in the colonial period to serve the limited legal needs of a sparsely populated country. It was modeled on English county courts, but local circumstances had required that a number of compromises be made in the administration of justice. The most significant deviations from the English model were that administrators appointed lay magistrates to serve the courts and they endowed the court with a very high jurisdictional limit in civil cases. Despite public agitation in the late 1860s to formalize court procedure no significant changes were made to the courts when British Columbia entered Confederation in 1871. In the first years of the new province members of the legislative assembly championed the cause of civil procedure reform in the courts. In contrast, the judiciary resisted change to this government institution and to a way of life that they had established in the colonial era. This study is based on an extensive examination of literary sources as well as a quantitative analysis of court records. One goal of the research was to discover the urgency of court reform in the post-Confederation period. Recent British Columbia legal historiography has suggested that would-be court reformers tried to implement changes that were premature. The quantitative research presented in this study supports the argument of reformers that change was required for the better administration of justice. At Confederation the extant courts system was stifling economic development. In response materialist, progress-minded legislators adopted court reform initiatives instituted in contemporary English common law courts to facilitate commercial expansion. In conclusion, this examination of court reform suggests that the rationalization of the county courts system advanced the development of capitalist social relations in British Columbia.

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