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Different Australian Courts - How Do They Work?

Australian courts
There are many different levels of Courts and Tribunals in Australia and you may have wondered how they all work. Each Court and Tribunal has its own special function and deals with distinct matters at both federal and state levels. Here is an outline of the different Courts and Tribunals you may come across in Australia.

 Australia’s Federal Courts

 Australia has four principle federal courts. These are:

  • High Court of Australia – This is the highest Court in Australia and the highest court of appeal. This court hears matters in relation to the meaning of the constitution and civil and criminal appeals from all Australian courts.
  • Federal Court of Australia – Hears matters in relation to bankruptcy, corporations, industrial relations, native title, taxation and trade practices laws and appeals from the Federal Magistrates Court (except family law).
  • Family Court of Australia – This court hears cases in relation to family disputes and appeals from the Federal Magistrates court in relation to family matters. This court is in every state except Western Australia where family matters are heard at the state level.
  • Federal Circuit Court of Australia – Formally known as the Federal Magistrates Court, this court hears less complex disputes in family, administrative, bankruptcy, industrial relations, migration and trade practices laws.
State Courts 
  • Magistrates Court – This is the lowest level of court and is sometimes called the Local Court. Here the Magistrate will hear the case and deliver a verdict, usually a fine or punishment. Cases in the Magistrates Court are civil matters involving less that $40,000 and criminal cases such as theft and drink driving. If the case is more serious, a committal hearing will occur to determine if the case should be heard in a higher court. Magistrate’s courts include Children’s Court, Minor Debts Court, Coroner’s Court, Small Claims Tribunals and Industrial Magistrates Courts.
  • District Court – This court is the next level in the hierarchy and can hear appeals from the Magistrates Court. It also deals with civil cases up to $250,000 and criminal offences such as robbery, rape and fraud. The District Court also has a jury.
  • County Court – This court is a Victorian court and sits at the same level as the District Court in all states expect Tasmania. It hears both criminal and civil matters.
  • Supreme Court – This is the highest state court and has two divisions, the Trial Division and Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal deals with cases heard in lower courts and cases are heard by three or five judges. The Trial Division deals with civil cases over $250,000 and criminal offences such as murder, manslaughter and serious drug offences. This division has a jury of ordinary citizens who determine if the accused is guilty or not guilty.
  • Administrative Appeals Tribunal – Independent body which reviews administrative decisions made by the Australian Government ministers, officials, authorities and other tribunals.
  • Australian Competition Tribunal – Hears application of review put forward by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).
  • Commonwealth Courts Portal – Online services providing information about Federal Court cases.
  • Copyright Tribunal of Australia – Inquires into the amount of royalty payable in relation to the recording of musical works. It also determines the granting of licences and remuneration costs.
  • Defence Force Discipline Appeal Tribunal – Hears and determines appeals in relation to service offences by Australian Defence Force personnel.
  • Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal – Determines pay and allowance for regular and reserve members.
  • Fair Work Commission – Resolves workplace issues, disputes and dismissals.
  • National Native Title Tribunal – Develops understanding of native title, reach and rights to land and waters.
  • Veterans’ Review Board – Reviews decisions about repatriation pensions and attendant allowances.

Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: January 26, 2016.

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