Custody, Control, and Confusion: Legal, Historical, and Territorial Aspects of Court Records in Ontario

  • Tom Belton


This paper explores the evolution of Ontario’s superior and county courts and their records in their legislative context up to the present. It examines issues of ambiguity, complexity, and outright confusion that have surrounded the custody, control, and preservation of court records. It provides a short example of the disposition of the records of one county court in Ontario – the County of Middlesex – during a time of transition from local to central authority in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The paper concludes that judicial control of court records remains a firmly entrenched legal concept in Ontario as elsewhere, albeit alongside a strengthening provincial custodial role that has supplanted local involvement due to forty years of centralization in courts administration and records management. This has occurred despite the continued absence of references to court records in current Ontario legislation, which should be corrected based on models from other provinces such as Manitoba and Saskatchewan.


Ce texte analyse l’évolution des tribunaux supérieurs et correctionnels de l’Ontario ainsi que de leurs documents d’archives, dans leur contexte législatif d’hier à aujourd’hui. Il examine l’ambiguïté, la complexité, voire même la confusion totale qui entourent la garde, le contrôle et la conservation des documents d’archives des tribunaux. Il donne un bref exemple de la disposition des documents d’archives d’un tribunal correctionnel en Ontario – celui du comté de Middlesex – pendant la période de transition d’une autorité locale à une autorité centrale à la fin des années 1960 et au début des années 1970. Le texte conclut que le contrôle judiciaire des documents des tribunaux demeure un concept légal bien établi en Ontario comme ailleurs, bien qu’on assiste au renforcement du contrôle provincial qui, après quarante ans de centralisation tant de l’administration judiciaire que de la gestion des documents, remplace l’engagement local. Cette situation s’est produite malgré l’absence continue de références aux documents des tribunaux dans la législation ontarienne, qui devrait être corrigée selon les modèles d’autres provinces comme le Manitoba et le Saskatchewan.

Author Biography

Tom Belton

Tom Belton has a Master of Arts degree in Public History from the University of Waterloo (1988). He has worked as an archivist for twenty-two years, thir­teen at the Archives of Ontario working primarily with health and justice sector records, and three as Ontario’s Archives Advisor. Since 2005, Tom has worked as an archivist at the University of Western Ontario Archives. His responsibilities include university records and private records relating to the legal sector. He is a Certified Archivist (Academy of Certified Archivists, 2005). His current research interests are the law affecting records, and the hist­ory of document types and recordkeeping. He has written several case studies on the history of official and personal records. Tom has served on a number of committees for the Archives Association of Ontario, the Association of Canadian Archivists, and the Canadian Council of Archives.

How to Cite
Belton, Tom. 2010. “Custody, Control, and Confusion: Legal, Historical, and Territorial Aspects of Court Records in Ontario”. Archivaria 69 (May), 9-21.