||The examples and perspective in this article deal primarily with the English-speaking world and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (December 2010)|
||This article needs additional citations for verification. (March 2009)|
Landmark court decisions establish new precedents that establish a significant new legal principle or concept, or otherwise substantially change the interpretation of existing law. In Commonwealth countries, a reported decision is said to be a leading decision when it has come to be generally regarded as settling the law of the question involved. In 1914, Canadian jurist Augustus Henry Frazer Lefroy said "a 'leading case' [is] one that settles the law upon some important point."
A leading decision may settle the law in more than one way. It may do so by:
There is no universally agreed-to list of "leading decisions" in Canada.
One indication, however, as to whether a case is widely regarded as being "leading" is its inclusion of the ruling in one or more of the series of compilations prepared over the years by various authors. One of the earlier examples is Augustus Henry Frazer Lefroy's Leading Cases in Canadian Constitutional Law, published in 1914. More recently, Peter Russell and a changing list of collaborators have published a series of books, including:
Landmark decisions in Canada are have usually been made by the Supreme Court of Canada. Prior to the abolition of appeals of Supreme Court decisions in the 1940s, most landmark decisions were made by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London.
|Decision||Court||Date & citation||Subject matter||Principle or rule established by the court's decision||Full text|
|Robertson and Rosetanni v. R.||Supreme Court|| S.C.R. 651||Canadian Bill of Rights||Establishes that the Bill of Rights is not concerned with rights in any abstract sense, but rather with the more modest objective of prohibiting restrictions on rights as they existed in Canada at the time the Bill of Rights was enacted.|||
|re Anti-Inflation Act||Supreme Court|| 2 S.C.R. 373||Use of extraneous material in court decisions.||Established that it is acceptable for Canadian courts to examine historical material in addition to the text of the relevant statute.|||
|Patriation Reference||Supreme Court|| 1 S.C.R. 753||Constitutional conventions||Establishes that constitutional conventions are not legally binding.|||
|Quebec v. Blaikie||Supreme Court|| 2 SCR 1016||Status of English & French in Quebec legislation.||Established that all laws and regulations of the province of Quebec, as well as all courts and tribunals, must treat French and English with absolute equality.|||
|R. v. Sparrow||Supreme Court|| 1 S.C.R. 1075||Constitution Act, 1982, section 35(1) (Aboriginal rights)||Establishes that aboriginal rights that pre-exist the Constitution Act, 1982 cannot be infringed without justification.||.|
|Delgamuukw v. British Columbia||Supreme Court|| 3 S.C.R. 1010||Constitution Act, 1982, section 35(1) (Aboriginal rights)|||
|R. v. Marshall||Supreme Court|| 3 S.C.R. 456||Constitution Act, 1982, section 35(1) (Aboriginal rights)||Establishes that aboriginal treaty rights are subject to Canadian law, but not to provincial licencing systems.||R v Marshall (No 1)R v Marshall (No 2)|
|Re B.C. Motor Vehicle Act||Supreme Court|| 2 S.C.R. 486||Charter of Rights, section 7 (Legal rights)||Establishes that laws which impose prison sentences for ”absolute liability” offences (i.e. offences for which intent or negligence need not be shown) are invalidated by section 7 of the Charter.|||
|R. v. Morgentaler||Supreme Court|| 1 S.C.R. 30||Charter of Rights, section 7 (Legal rights), abortion||The abortion provision in the Criminal Code violated the right of women, under section 7 of the Charter to “security of the person.”|||
|Gosselin v. Quebec||Supreme Court|| 4 S.C.R. 429||Charter of Rights, section 7 (Legal rights)||Establishes that section 7 does not mandate positive rights to welfare benefits, but that “a positive obligation to sustain life, liberty or security of the person may be made out” under different circumstances than those of the instant case.|||
|Andrews v. Law Society of British Columbia||Supreme Court|| 1 S.C.R. 143||Charter of Rights, section 15 (Equality rights)||Establishes the “Andrews test” for determining whether Charter-protected equality rights have been violated.|||
|Hunter v. Southam||Supreme Court|| 2 S.C.R. 145||Charter of Rights, section 8 (Legal rights)||Establishes that the Charter ought to be interpreted purposively.|||
|R. v. Feeney||Supreme Court|| 2 S.C.R. 13||Constitution Act, 1982, section 8 (Procedural rights)||Establishes that the police cannot enter a home without a search warrant.|||
|Egan v. Canada||Supreme Court|| 2 S.C.R. 513||Charter of Rights, section 15(1) (Equality rights)||Establishes that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is prohibited under section 15(1).|||
|Law v. Canada||Supreme Court|| 1 S.C.R. 497||Charter of Rights, section 15(1) (Equality rights)||Establishes the “Law test” for identifying Charter-prohibited discrimination.|||
|Canada (Attorney General) v. Hislop||Supreme Court|| 1 S.C.R. 429||Charter of Rights, section 15 (Equality rights)||Establishes that Charter-mandated rights come into existence, for purposes of applicability, only from the moment that their existence is determined by the court. Charter rights are not “discovered” in the sense proposed by Blackstone, and therefore are not retroactive.|||
|Ford v. Quebec (A.G.)||Supreme Court|| 2 S.C.R. 712||Charter of Rights, section 2(b) (Freedom of expression)|||
|Irwin Toy Ltd. v. Quebec (A.G.)||Supreme Court|| 1 S.C.R. 927||Charter of Rights, section 2(b) (Freedom of expression)|||
|R. v. Zundel||Supreme Court|| 2 S.C.R. 731||Charter of Rights, section 2(b) (Freedom of expression)|||
|R. v. Sharpe||Supreme Court|| 1 S.C.R. 45||Charter of Rights, section 2(b) (Freedom of expression)|||
|Mahe v. Alberta||Supreme Court|| 1 S.C.R. 342||Charter of Rights, section 23 (Minority-language education rights)||Establishes that section 23 of the Charter is intended to be remedial, and therefore should be given a large and liberal interpretation.|||
|R. v. Oakes||Supreme Court|| 1 S.C.R. 103||Charter of Rights, section 1 (limits on rights protected elsewhere in the Charter)||Establishes the "Oakes test" determining whether laws placing limits on Charter-protected rights are permitted under section 1 of the Charter.|||
|Meiorin case||Supreme Court|| 3 S.C.R. 3||Charter of Rights, section 15(1) (Equality rights)||Establishes the “Meiorin test” to be used in applying human rights legislation.||.|
|Auton v. British Columbia||Supreme Court|| 3 S.C.R. 657||Charter of Rights, section 15 (Equality rights)||Establishes that section 15 of the Charter does not create a positive right to receive government services.|||
Landmark decisions in the United Kingdom have usually been made by the Court of Appeal or the House of Lords, and the High Court of Justice of England and Wales. Many twentieth century examples have involved contributions from the late Lord Denning. 'Landmark case' is usually used in England and Wales, instead of 'leading case'.
Landmark cases in the United States come most frequently (but not exclusively) from the United States Supreme Court. United States Courts of Appeal may also make such decisions, particularly if the Supreme Court chooses not to review the case, or adopts the holding of the court below. Although many cases from state supreme courts are significant in developing the law of that state, only a few are so revolutionary that they announce standards that many other state courts then choose to follow.
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