Overview of Australia’s Court system
High Court of Australia
The High Court of Australia is the highest Court in the Australian Court hierarchy. It is the final Court of Appeal in Australia. It hears matters involving disputes about the interpretation of the Australian Constitution as well as final appeals of criminal and civil matters from all Courts in Australia.
Federal Court of Australia
The Federal Court is a superior Court with jurisdiction to hear civil disputes governed by Federal laws. It hears matters on a range of different subject matter including bankruptcy, corporations, industrial relations, native title, taxation and trade practices laws, and hears appeals from decisions (except family law decisions) of the Federal Circuit Court.
Federal Circuit Court of Australia
The Federal Circuit Court hears less complex disputes than the Federal Court of Australia. Its jurisdiction extends to matters including family law and child support, administrative law, admiralty law, bankruptcy, copyright, human rights, industrial law, migration, privacy and trade practices.
State and territory Courts and Tribunals
The Court hierarchy in each state and territory in Australia varies. All states and territories have a Supreme Court, which is the highest Court within that state or territory. These Courts also have appeal divisions, known as the Court of Appeal (in civil matters), or the Court of Criminal Appeal (in criminal matters).
In most Australian states and territories, the Court hierarchy is as follows:
The Supreme Court is the highest State Court (in New South Wales it deals with all civil claims over $750,000). It also hears serious criminal matters. The Supreme Court of Appeal hears all civil appeals from the Supreme Court, District Court, Land and Environment Court and some tribunals. Appeals from the Supreme Court of Appeal are heard by the High Court.
District Court (or County Court)
The District Court deals with civil claims (in New South Wales between $100,000 and $750,000) and all motor accident cases. It also hears less serious indictable criminal offences (except murder, treason and piracy). The District Court determines all appeals from the Local Court.
Local Court (or Magistrates Court)
The Local Court has criminal and civil jurisdiction, dealing with lesser value civil claims (of up to $100,000 in New South Wales) and criminal summary offences.
Land and Environment Court
The Land and Environment Court is a specialist environmental and planning Court, which is responsible for interpreting and enforcing planning and environmental law. This court deals with civil matters including appeals against government decisions, breaches of environmental and planning laws and mining disputes.
This publication covers legal and technical issues in a general way. It is not designed to express opinions on specific cases. It is intended for information purposes only and should not be regarded as legal advice. Further advice should be obtained before taking action on any issue dealt with in this publication.