• Joseph Gelinas

What is the difference between a court and a tribunal?

Updated: Jul 29, 2020

Courts and tribunals have a lot in common but there are some key differences.


Courts and tribunals make decisions based on evidence and the law. Judges sit in courts. Adjudicators sit in tribunals. Judges are expected to have a broad, general knowledge of the laws which are relevant to the court in which they preside. Adjudicators in tribunals are expected to have a specific, specialized knowledge in the area of law which they make decisions. In Ontario the courts are governed by the Courts of Justice Act and their procedures are based on regulations and rules that govern different courts and causes of action. Tribunals' procedures are based on the Statutory Powers and Procedures Act but most tribunals have additional rules' of procedure. Courts are bound by the principle of stare decisis meaning they are bound by previous decisions while tribunals are not. Court proceedings are formal, time consuming. and costly. Tribunals tend to be more informal than courts and are intended to be more cost effective and timely.


Whether a particular piece of evidence is admissible in a court depends on the rules of evidence. As a general rule, the Statutory Powers and Procedures Act governs how evidence is to be treated in a tribunal however, specific laws can limit what is considered admissible. The laws that govern evidence in tribunals are viewed as a relaxed form of court evidence laws. Because of the formalities of courts that do not exist in tribunals, tribunals tend to allow in evidence more readily than courts.


Different courts have different appeals processes but all court appeals go through a court. Tribunals have varying forums of appeal or reconsideration depending on the tribunal in question. Some tribunals have strong privative clauses which prevent tribunal decisions from being appealed to a court, in this case the only process available to a court is, generally, judicial review. The governing statute will outline the proper appeal forum for a tribunal.

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