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What is Superior Court?

By Jason C. Chavis
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A superior court is a government body in which the adjudicating of legal disputes occurs. It is generally mandated with the authority to dispense justice in accordance with the law. Superior courts work within the jurisdiction of civil law systems and handle cases that involve civil, criminal and administrative justice.

Usually, the concept of a superior court system involves a series of lower courts and higher courts; however, some jurisdictions simply use the title as a generalization. In this way, superior courts have unlimited authority, while the lower courts do not. Most of the lower courts are focused on either civil or criminal cases, which can be appealed to the higher court. Essentially, these higher courts work as a check on the lower courts to ensure justice is properly administered. The system of superior courts exists in both the United States and Canada. Both countries use the concept in a different way, however.

Canada has superior courts at the level of provinces and territories. They handle large claim civil lawsuits, criminal prosecutions and divorces. In addition to this function, Canadian superior courts review the judgments of lower courts as well as decisions by government entities such as labor boards. Certain branches in larger provinces feature an extensive system of courts under the administrative authority of a hierarchy. Most of the courts at this level do not feature lawyers.

In the United States, the superior court system acts as state trial courts for California, Pennsylvania, Georgia, New Jersey, Maine and the District of Columbia. Other states refer to their systems as either circuit courts or district courts. Each higher court in Georgia, Maine and the District of Columbia has the power to hear and administer justice in civil and criminal trials. Lower courts in these states generally are limited to municipal law, traffic issues and justices of the peace. In Pennsylvania and New Jersey, the superior courts work primarily on the basis of an appellate system.

California is the most complicated of these systems. In 1998, the state absorbed its entire judicial branch into a system known as the Superior Courts of California. Lower courts and higher courts work in unison with a method of subdivided partitions. Each county in California has a superior court that handles all civil and criminal matters. The hierarchy above these includes six courts of appeal and a single supreme court. In this way, the name merely holds a place in tradition.

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Discussion Comments

By anon318841 — On Feb 09, 2013

A superior court is a state court whereas the Supreme Court is a higher, federal court.

By Saraq90 — On Jul 21, 2011

@sinbad - I can see how you would think that but sadly I did not think that because I have been summoned for jury duty in California's superior court, specifically our county superior court for the county of Los Angeles.

Has anyone else had to do jury duty for the CA superior court system?

By Sinbad — On Jul 20, 2011

I always thought that the superior court house was a different word for our Supreme Court house.

I don't Supreme Court justice Ginsberg or any of the others would appreciate my mistake!

Did anyone else think this?

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