Structure of the judicial system
The political system of Australia is divided, so that the judiciary (the courts) is separate from the lawmakers and administrators. This is called 'the separation of powers'.
The court system is made up of federal courts which deal with Commonwealth matters and State courts which deal with State matters.
The court system
The Australian court system has two main arms - State and federal.
There are four federal courts:
The High Court: hears cases on constitutional disputes and can also hear appeals from all other courts. A High Court decision is final.
The Federal Court: the Federal Court deals with federal law such as the Trade Practices Act and corporate disputes. It also hears appeals from the specialised federal tribunals and the two Territories.
The Family Court: deals directly with family law matters, such as divorce.
The Federal Magistrates Court: is the lowest of the federal courts and deals with many different issues such as anti-discrimination and consumer protection.
State and Territory courts
State courts deal with issues that occur within their State. There are generally three levels of courts within the State system. The names of these courts vary between the States.
The levels are:
Supreme Courts: are the most important courts and deal with the most important cases. A major function of the Supreme Court is to handle appeals from other courts. Often appeals are heard first by a single judge. A full Supreme Court usually consists of three judges sitting together.
Intermediate Courts: These courts have one judge and deal with most of the criminal matters. The names of these courts vary. In Victoria, for example, they are called County Courts and in New South Wales they are called District Courts.
Courts of summary jurisdiction: These courts have a magistrate and not a judge. They deal with smaller offences, such as traffic infringements and street crimes. In New South Wales, these courts are known as Local Courts.
The two federal Territories also have their own courts, similar to the State courts, but without the intermediate level.
Bodies other than courts
In the court system, bodies which do not have judicial power exist to hear matters on a wide range of issues. They generally deal with reviews of administrative decisions. Some of the main bodies are:
The Administrative Appeals Tribunal;
The National Native Title Tribunal;
Industrial bodies, dealing with employment issues.