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Alberta Law Update: What is Precedent?

One of the great characters of Alberta law was Master Funduk. In the Alberta judicial system, a Master-in-Chambers is a judicial officer who makes decisions that move matters closer to trial. They do not hear live evidence, but they are an important part of the judicial system. They deal with certain court applications, bankruptcy, foreclosures and other matters. Precedent, or stare decisis, means that courts should follow previous cases with similar facts.

Master Funduk wrote about the rule of precedent in an extremely colourful matter in the case of South Side Woodwork (1979) Ltd. v. RC Contracting Ltd. At paragraph 50 he said:

McDonald is a decision by the Supreme Court of Alberta, Trial Division, now the Court of Queen’s Bench. I am bound by decisions of judges of this court unless they have been overruled by our Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court of Canada, or unless there are contrary decisions by judges of this court, in which case I would face a dilemma (which I could probably “solve” by ordering a trial of an issue).

[51] Any legal system which has a judicial appeals process inherently creates a pecking order for the judiciary regarding where judicial decisions stand on the legal ladder.

[52] I am bound by decisions of Queen’s Bench judges, by decisions of the Alberta Court of Appeal and by decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada. Very simply, Masters in Chambers of a superior trial court occupy the bottom rung of the superior courts judicial ladder.

[53] I do not overrule decisions of a judge of this court. The judicial pecking order does not permit little peckers to overrule big peckers. It is the other way around.

If you require assistance navigating the legal system in Alberta, please feel free to contact us.

The information contained in this article is not legal advice. No solicitor client relationship is formed through this article. The reader is encouraged to retain counsel for advice in these matters.

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