The State courts
- State courts have three levels. These are the supreme courts, the district courts and the local courts. The Supreme Court is the most powerful and the Local Court is the least powerful.
Each court deals with different cases depending on how important or serious the case is.
Cases heard in the local court can be appealed (heard again) in the District Court. Cases heard in the District Court can be appealed to the Supreme Court.
- Intermediary or District
These different levels of courts enable matters of differing levels of seriousness to be handled separately and enable cases to be appealed to higher courts.
Each State and Territory has a Supreme Court, which is led by a Chief Justice, who works with a number of other judges. Supreme Courts are the highest court in each State and deal with the most serious criminal matters. The Supreme Court can hear any civil case ( not involving anything criminal).
The Supreme Court hears serious civil cases, involving amounts of money over $750 000. It also hears serious criminal cases involving murder, treason and piracy. Cases which the Supreme Court hears are generally about issues such as:
- Contract disputes between parties who have made promises to each other;
- Cases where people have committed wrongs (torts) against each other;
- Wills and inheritance of property after people die; and
- Building disputes and general arguments over business matters.
Supreme Court judges are usually highly experienced solicitors or barristers. The court's work is carried out by both judges and associate judges. Associate judges deal with the cases which are not very complex. Registrars help run the administrative side of the court and make dates for cases to be heard by judges.
Supreme Courts are generally located in the capital cities of each State.
Intermediate courts or district courts
The District Court is the intermediate court in a State's court system. The District Court can hear new cases or can hear cases that have been appealed from the local courts. In most States, courts at this level are called district courts but in Victoria they are called county courts.
District courts can hear both criminal and civil cases. District courts have judges controlling the proceedings in court. The District Court can hear cases on a wide range of issues. Specific matters that district courts deal with are:
Serious criminal matters. These would be vehicular manslaughter, drug crimes, and serious assault. It cannot hear murder trials.
Civil cases, where the amount of money being asked for is less than $750 000. The court often deals with claims coming from car crashes.
Appeals from the Local Court and the Children's Court.
District courts generally deal with most of the serious criminal cases. Cases in the district courts generally have a jury to decide whether a person is guilty or innocent of a crime. Juries are made up of twelve citizens, chosen randomly.
District courts are located throughout the States, in many different locations. The biggest district court will be located in the capital city of the State.
Every State has a system of lower courts to deal with minor crimes and arguments between people over small amounts of money. These courts have different names. In NSW these courts are called local courts. They are also known as Courts of Petty Sessions and Magistrate Courts.
Magistrates and not judges sit in local courts. Generally magistrates are appointed to the role after being a lawyer or a law teacher. Magistrates are referred to as 'Your Worship'.
- small crimes such as muggings and assault;
- arguments between people over small amount of money;
- hearings to decide whether the person has a case to answer
- family law matters;
- children's crimes; and
- inquiries into people's deaths (Coroner's Court)
Local courts hear the most cases of any courts. In fact in New South Wales 98 percent of all cases are heard in the local court.
There are many local courts throughout all areas of the States. Local courts are generally located in towns and cities.
In each State system other more specialised courts exist to deal with particular areas of law. These courts have judges who have a great deal of knowledge and experience in that area.
An example of a specialised court is the Children's Court. This court deals with people under the age of 18 who have committed crimes.