Understanding Australian Court Cases and Judicial System

The judicial system of Australia is rooted in and derived from English Common Law as it developed in Great Britain over the past centuries. Australia was colonized by the British. That nation brought its legal system with it to this new southern hemisphere nation.

Australian court cases are handled at several levels. Let’s start with those at the lower end of a multi-tiered legal system.

Local and Magistrate Courts

These courts handle minor legal matters and are presided over by a magistrate (as opposed to a judge). The role of the latter varies somewhat from state to state.

Australia is made up of six states. For example, 90% of criminal matters in New South Wales are dealt with by a Local Court. By comparison, in the Australian Capital Territory, a Magistrates Court will handle criminal cases but only to determine if the case should be sent to a higher court.

District and County Court

These are the next level up from Local and Magistrate Courts. This is where cases are heard by a judge rather than a magistrate. District and County Courts also preside over appeals from the lower courts. Finally, District and County Court is where jury trials are held in criminal matters but not major crimes like murder.

Supreme Court

In the U.S., the Supreme Court is the highest in the nation. In Australia, the Supreme Court is the highest court within each state. Here is where the more serious criminal matters are tried with a jury.

The Supreme Court system hears appeals from lower courts. Such appeals can be questions of fact, such as when a judge or magistrate is said to have made an error. They also deal in questions of law. In the latter incidence, an appellant contends that a judge or magistrate erred when applying the law.


Federal Court

Federal Courts preside over criminal matters that result from federal legislation. This legislation applies to all states and territories.


High Court

The High Court in Australia is equivalent to the Supreme Court in the U.S. It’s the highest court in the land. It handles appeals from lower courts and decides landmark cases of primary social, legal, and cultural significance in Australia.

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