After a hearing in Court the judge or justice of the peace will make a decision. Almost inevitably the decision will not please at least one person – indeed, sometimes everyone is unhappy about the result.
That does not mean the judge or justice of the peace got it wrong. The job of a judge or justice of the peace is to make decisions and that means there is always going to be someone who wanted one result and got another. The judge or justice of the peace is only “wrong” if they grossly misapprehended the evidence or made a serious mistake in the law. A judge who, for example, believed one witness and disbelieved another witness is almost never “wrong” in so doing. The judge came to a decision and while it might not be the same decision as someone else would make that does not make the decision an error.
This last point explains why with is almost impossible to predict Court decisions with certainty. There is a large element of opinion, discretion and instinct in what a judge does. Sometimes it is very obvious that someone is lying. But usually the difference between what one and another witness says (for example) is subtle and both witnesses may be telling the truth as best they can – perhaps neither is lying but one witness is just mistaken. Choosing, as a judge or justice of the peace must do, between two witnesses trying to tell the truth is not easy – and what one judge or justice of the peace may find convincing another may reject.
In any event, suppose you have lost in Court and you believe the judge or justice of the peace got the law wrong or really did misapprehend the evidence in a fundamental way. What now?
For most final rulings there is a right of appeal (there are only very limited rights of review for interim decisions). What that means is that a decision of a judge or justice of the peace can be review by a higher court.
An appeal will succeed only if you can show there was a serious error in apprehending the evidence by the judge or justice of the peace or if there was a material legal error. A serious error in apprehending the evidence (sometimes called a “palpable and overriding error”) is hard to demonstrate. Disagreeing with what the judge or justice of the peace found is not enough – there has to be some pretty obvious mistake of fact that goes to the heart of the decision. That’s unusual – judges and justices of the peace seldom make such obvious errors. A material legal error is also unusual – you have to show the judge or justice of the peace made a legal error that in some way was significant to the final decision. Most appeals fail because the standard to have a decision set aside is high.As you can see, even if you don’t like a decision it seldom makes sense to launch an appeal. Only if you are confident the judge or justice of made a major error should you appeal.