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North Vs. South – A Legal Comparision Essay, Research Paper


A comparison of legal systems

Many Canadians believe that Canadian law and American law are one in the same, (aside from major discrepancies i.e. Death Penalty) or at least very similar. But what most people do not know is that, in fact they are very different. Even though both systems evolved over hundreds of years from The English Common Law system, they have since taken different routes. Canada has kept mostly to the British formalities such as discipline and even the black gowns traditionally worn by British judges. The U.S. has however become a more informal and argumentative court system.

The U.S. courts and Canadian courts have many differences but one of the main ones is in their court structure. To begin with in Canada all criminal matters are Federal so crimes, their terms and punishments are the same from coast to coast. This differs from the U.S. where most of their criminal matters are legislated state by state. This means for some crimes there could be a different approach to a crime, whether it be terms or punishment by each state. U.S. courts are also usually quicker to accept scientific and technical evidence and they tend to have longer trials even though they work longer hours, sometimes even sitting in on a weekend. This is mainly because they are so much more informal and argumentative than Canadian courts.

The actual means by which they conduct the court also differs. In the U.S. prosecutors are not allowed to appeal an acquittal, a jury has the final say. In Canada a Crown Attorney can not only appeal an acquittal but he can also appeal the sentences in some situations. In the U.S. Pretrial disclosure is a big thing, both the Prosecutor and the Defense are required to inform each other of their plans to call on witnesses. This gives both sides a good idea of the case the other is trying to bring together. This can give an incredible amount of information away such as, a chance to counteract your plan (i.e. debunk a witness). Failure to abide to this pretrial disclosure can lead to major upset in the court. If one side was not informed prior to the admission of evidence the Judge may claim it as in admissible. In Canada the Crown must also show pretrial disclosure, however the defense does not have to. Judges are also different, in how they are selected. In Canada, Supreme Court Judges are appointed by the Federal Justice Minister, Crown Attorneys are appointed by the Provincial Attorneys General. In the U.S both Judges and District Attorneys are elected.

Juries differ between the two countries as well. The U.S. demands that citizens ordered to show up for jury duty fill out an extensive questionnaire containing dozens of questions; some are general (i.e. name, address) and some personal (i.e. religion). In Canada prospective jurors are only required to answer what their name, Address and occupation are. Once jurors arrive at court, both sides of the case begin screening them. In both the U.S. and Canada each side is allowed twenty preemptory challenges (or challenges without cause) in a first-degree murder case. But in the U.S. if a judge sees a pattern he can question the lawyer s actions. In both countries each side is allowed unlimited challenges with cause in which the judge decides whether if the juror is suitable. After twelve jurors are selected (and alternate jury members if it is in the U.S.) they begin to sit in on the case once it starts. Most Canadians feel Canada s juror remuneration of $40.00 a day after ten days and $100.00 a day after fifty days is unreasonable. But in the U.S. jurors are paid $5.00 a day no matter how long they sit in on the trial. They do not even receive the Canadian $2.75 in daily travel costs. U.S. jurors are also, especially in large public criminal trials, sequestered more often. That is where they are cut off from all outside court influences until the case is over.

But by far one of the biggest differences between Canada and the U.S, is the role the media plays in the courtroom. In the U.S. Cameras are allowed to be in the courtroom, and film anything they want. In Canada this is a big no-no. In Canadian courts no means of electronic reproduction are allowed into the courts. This means the only thing that is allowed is carefully worded sentences and paintings done in court of an involved person. If a bench conference is held the jury is first removed and the media cannot report on anything that is said. Some people think that keeping the cameras out of our courts is a bad idea. These people think that the basis of English common law was that the honesty and fairness of the courts depended on the scrutiny of the public. And they feel TV is the way to offer this access to the people.

As you can see from what you ve just read, even though they appear similar, in fact Canadian and U.S. courts are both very different. Whether it be jury selection, court structure or even the media s involvement in the courts. Through all the differences the two systems have one major point in common, that is the fact that both systems where designed to conduct justice in a swift and fair manner. No legal system is always perfect and even though some may argue they don t the systems of these two countries (however different they are) have evolved to suit both countries needs.