Down North on the Labrador Circuit: The Court of Civil Jurisdiction 1826 to 1833
by Nina Jane Goudie


The Legal System in Labrador


Details on any aspect of the early legal system in Labrador are, at best, sketchy. Most references are simply passing comments.38 When re-annexed to Newfoundland in 1809, Labrador came under the Judicature Act of 1792 which had officially established courts in Newfoundland.39 In 1810 Governor Duckworth visited Chateaux Bay and a surrogate judge visited communities along the Strait of Belle Isle, both hearing and settling disputes.40 The legality of this was questioned by Gosling because technically it was after 1811 when the Act “for... instituting Surrogate Courts on the Coast of Labrador, and in certain Islands adjacent thereto” was passed that it was lawful for the Governor to extend its legal system to Labrador.41

That it shall and may be lawful... to institute Surrogate Courts [on the coast of Labrador]... with power and authority to proceed in and to hear and determine... suits and complaints in like manner as Surrogate Courts instituted by virtue of the said act in the Island of Newfoundland.42

In the years following 1811 judges were known to be present in Labrador. Naval officers and local men acted as surrogates.43 As surrogate and Justice of the Peace they heard and settled disputes, performed marriages and generally acted as a local point of contact on behalf of the governor. Naval surrogates also patrolled the coastal waters of Labrador. Details of their responsibilities were outlined in orders given by the governor to the naval surrogate, as to Captain Robinson in 1820. He was asked to go to Sandwich Bay and investigate an alleged encroachment by Nova Scotians and Americans on the fishing grounds of Beard and Company, which had long prosecuted a successful salmon fishery there.

Domino Tickle, Labrador
Domino Tickle by George E. Gladwin, ca. 1877.

From Charles de Volpi, Newfoundland: a Pictorial Record (Sherbrooke, Quebec: Longman Canada Limited, ©1972), 141.
Larger Version with more information (94 kb).
Whereas the fisheries carried on by His Majesty's Subjects on the Coast of Labradore [sic] require the protection of a Man of War, and the authority of a Surrogate and Justice of the Peace, you are hereby required and directed to proceed... to Sandwich Bay... You will make this [salmon] fishery a particular object of your attention and report to me relative to any points contained in the accompanying memorial from Beard and Company upon which your immediate observation may enable you to form a correct judgment, and you will cause the enclosed Regulations to be made public, and as far as in you lies enforce the observance of them.44








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