Definitions

Superior court

Superior court

In common law systems, a superior court is a court of general competence which typically has unlimited jurisdiction with regard to civil and criminal legal cases. A superior court is "superior" relative to a court with limited jurisdiction (see lower court), which is restricted to civil cases involving monetary amounts with a specific limit, or criminal cases involving offenses of a less serious nature. A superior court may hear appeals from lower courts (see court of appeal).

Canada

Superior Courts in Canada exist at the provincial and territorial levels. The superior courts are the courts of first instance for divorce petitions, civil lawsuits involving claims greater than small claims, and criminal prosecutions for "indictable offences". They also perform a reviewing function for judgements from the local "inferior" courts and administrative decisions by provincial or territorial government entities such as labour boards, human rights tribunals and licensing authorities.

United States

In a number of jurisdictions in the United States, the Superior Court is a state trial court of general jurisdiction with power to hear and decide any civil or criminal action which is not specially designated to be heard in some other court. California, Maine, the District of Columbia, and Georgia are all examples of such jurisdictions. Equivalent courts in other states are variously known as circuit courts (Illinois, Michigan, Oregon and others), district courts (Louisiana, Texas, Hawaii and others) or, in the case of New York, supreme courts.

The term "superior court" raises the obvious question of superior to what. Formerly, many jurisdictions had inferior trial courts of limited jurisdiction such as municipal courts, traffic courts, and justice of the peace courts, so it was natural to call the next level of courts "superior." However, some states, like California, have unified their court systems. In California, all lower courts were absorbed into the Superior Courts of California after 1998. The lower courts now exist only as mere administrative subdivisions of the superior courts. The superior courts are legally no longer superior to any other trial courts. Thus, the term "superior court" persists in California only as a matter of tradition.

In Pennsylvania, the Superior Court is an appellate court. In New Jersey, the Superior Court comprises trial courts of general jurisdiction, courts of equity, and an appellate division.

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