Tribunals VS. Courts

How is an administrative tribunal different from a court?

There are many ways to resolve disputes, and they don’t all involve a trial before a judge in court. Administrative tribunals run parallel to the court system. Although administrative tribunals may resemble courts because they make decisions about disputes, they are not part of the court system.

There are two significant differences between administrative tribunals and courts:

  1. Administrative tribunals are set up to be less formal, less expensive, and a faster way to resolve disputes than by using the traditional court system.
  2. Tribunal members who make decisions (adjudicators) usually have special knowledge about the topic they are asked to consider. Judges, however, are expected to have general knowledge about many areas of law, not particular expertise about the law in the case they are hearing.

In a tribunal hearing, your case may be heard by one adjudicator sitting alone, or by a panel of several adjudicators if the matter is complicated. These adjudicators have special training and experience to conduct hearings, but they are not judges. But, like a trial in court before a judge, the adjudicators are responsible for conducting fair hearings and making final decisions on the issues. They do this by considering the evidence and applying the legislation, case law, and policies that relate to your case.

Who establishes administrative tribunals?

Tribunals are normally established by federal or provincial legislation or through municipal bylaws.

For example, the Employment Standards Act (provincial legislation), establishes the Employment Standards Tribunal, which makes decisions about issues that concern employees in BC. The Board of Variance in Vancouver was established by the city to hear appeals from residents who have been denied a building or zoning permit. Professional associations, such as the Law Society of BC or the Institute of Chartered Accountants of BC, create their own tribunals or boards to resolve complaints from members of the public or review issues about credentials about lawyers and accountants.

How are tribunal members appointed?

The government or other group that establishes the tribunal usually appoints tribunal members. As a general rule, members are selected because they have expertise or technical knowledge about the matters they will be reviewing.