The standard of review is a measure of the deference that an appellate court must show when reviewing the decision of a lower court.
The appellate court will not intervene in the lower court’s decision unless the required threshold has been met. The party defending a decision from a lower court (the “respondent”) will argue for a high threshold. Conversely, the party appealing a decision from a lower court (the “appellant”) will argue for a low threshold.
Generally, the standard of review is based on the expertise of the respective courts and other policy considerations (which will not be addressed here). Thus, findings of fact will generally carry a higher degree of deference, whereas questions of law generally carry no deference.
Because an appellate court does not have the benefit of hearing witnesses’ testimonies “live” and assess their credibility, it will generally defer to the lower court’s findings of fact, unless a “palpable and overriding error” can be found in the lower court’s assessment of the facts. However, no such deference is due on questions of law, since a lower court is not better positioned than an appellate court in interpreting the law. Thus, the standard of review on questions of law is generally “correctness.”
This is just a brief overview. There are many angles and subtleties to this issue that have not been addressed.
Last updated: November 4, 2015