A Comparison of the U.S and Canadian Justice Systems

Canada unlike the United States is not a product of a unilateral declaration of independence from British occupation (Blake, n.d.). The U.S owes its independence to a series of revolutions which led to development of the U.S constitution, which guides its legal system. However, Canada gained its independence from British rule through legislative and political processes. There is no single document called Canadian constitution, but common are a number of statutes from the British and Canadian parliaments. Although the U.S and the Canadian legal systems are comparable in many aspects, the two legal systems have significant differences.

            There are two distinct types of laws, the procedural and substantive laws (Boyd, 2011).  Substantive laws concern the definition and regulation of civil rights and obligations, while procedural laws set the manner in which the substantive laws are to be enforced. Substantive law is further classified into public law, which is further classified into four types of laws that include the criminal laws. Consisting of the penal system, criminal laws outline all the acts which the society considers to be offenses.

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The criminal laws including the penal system are within the federal jurisdictions in both countries (Boyd, 2011). However, in the United States, the individual states can adapt the criminal code to suit their own way and sentence the offenders in their prospective provided it is follows the guidelines of the criminal code. In contrast, the Canadian provinces and territories do not have the jurisdiction to adapt the criminal and punish offenders as they please. In Canada, there is only one criminal code and procedure. It is a federal law, which applies across all states and territories. In U.S, there exist fifty individual state criminal laws and one federal criminal law. An example is death penalty for offenders. In the United States, some states practice death penalty, whereas in Canada capital punishment is prohibited in all states and territories. Capital punishment is the ultimate sentence that a judge can order and can come in form of hanging, lethal injection, gas chamber, electrocution or firing squad if requested by the convict. The Canadian criminal code only utilized hanging when death sentence was in its criminal code. However, in 1976, the punishment was vetoed out of criminal code after a moving speech by Pierre Elliot Trudeau.

The most conspicuous component of the American law is the jury. In serious civil and criminal cases in the United States, there is a constitutional right to a trial by the jury. In Canada, there are virtually no jury trials in civil cases though this can be found in criminal cases (Boyd, 2011). There exist petit and grand juries in the United States, which operate in a similar manner to the Canadian preliminary inquiry by the provincial court judge in criminal cases. Moreover, the Canadian law prohibits the jurors from discussing their deliberations, while it is common for jurors in the United States in a case to describe their experience.

Apart from the content of the Canadian law, Canada is more open to looking at both domestic and international law from common law countries, in its legal jurisprudence. According to (Boyd, 2011), Canada’s legal system is open to using and adopting case precedents from United States and England when there are insufficient ones in the country’s law. Since Canada have less cases that deal with privacy, the Canadian jurists often seek reference to the American cases that have been ruled on privacy rights. Moreover, the other areas that Canadian jurists make reference while making decisions include corporate governance, securities law and insurance. However, while making rulings on a wide range of legal matters, the jurists often make reference to the decisions by the House of Lords and the English Court of Appeal.

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The United States and Canada have laws that govern individual rights. In Canada, the individual rights are governed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms while the United States equivalent is the Bill of Rights. Introduced in 1981, the Canadian charter has played an integral part in creating a balance of power between the judiciary and the legislature. In Canada, the parliament do not have supreme authority since the court has powers to review any act of parliament if there are significant grounds to believe such an act violates the provisions of the charter.

The Canadian policing system consists of the Board of Police Commissioners, which responsible for oversight of police services as entrenched in the provincial statute (Lithopoulos, 2007). In case of a civilian injury or police shooting incident, the Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT) is the only body involved in the resulting criminal investigation. Moreover, the citizens can report directly to the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner if they have any civilian complaints. However, in many American jurisdictions, there are no police services like the SIRT, complaint overseers, and civilian-led investigative services or police commissions. The use of intelligence outside the individual country territories has increased over the year. There has been rapid increase in efforts to tackle transnational crimes through the exchange of intelligence through the state boarders and jurisdictions (Deflem, 2002). Both Canada and the United States have embraced the strategy of international police corporation. In Canada, there is the INTERPOL Ottawa, which is part of international policing and whose role is to provide primary gateway for the Canadian law enforcement to criminal matters that arise outside the United States. Similarly, the United States joined the INTERPOL in 1938 providing its law enforcement to pursue criminal investigations outside the United States.

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