Australian District and Supreme Court Trials

Australian District and Supreme Court Trials


District and Supreme Court Trials are the first stage of the Australian trial process in Australia, with both types of cases being heard in the same court rooms by the same judges. The only difference between District and Supreme Court Trials is the level of punishment that can be imposed by the judges, where District Court trials can impose sentences of up to 2 years imprisonment or fines up to $5,000, whereas Supreme Court trials can impose sentences of up to 3 years imprisonment or fines up to $7,500. Both District and Supreme Court Trials are presided over by judges sitting without a jury.


High Court of Australia


The High Court of Australia is at the top of Australia’s court hierarchy. Its main function is to settle disputes about federal law. Only a small number of cases ever make it to hearing in front of all seven judges. Most are settled by one or two judges without a full hearing, on paper without an oral hearing. But occasionally, more complicated cases do make it to a hearing, when all seven judges sit together in Canberra for weeks on end; these are called High Court sittings and they attract significant media attention from across Australia and around the world.


Federal Circuit Court and Family Court of Australia


The Family Law Act 1975 introduced a new state court in Australia, namely, Family Court of Australia. From October 1990, these new courts started to operate in each State of Australia. They had exclusive jurisdiction over matters relating to children including adoption and child support. The Family Law Act 1975 also provided for establishment of Family Courts at each State Capital city. In 1989 there were more than 180 proceedings per week being finalized by these courts. According to statistics from 1990-1991 (2 years since establishment), 40% of all cases were finalized within 2 months from commencement; 69% within 6 months; 84% within 1 year; 92% within 2 years. The median duration for cases completed by adjudication was 11 weeks compared with 25 weeks for trials conducted by magistrates in that period.


Family Court of Western Australia


The Family Court of Western Australia is divided into 2 Divisions. The Family Division hears applications in relation to orders relating to children, property and money settlements and parenting arrangements. The General Division deals with appeals from decisions made by magistrates or judges in lower courts as well as dealing with civil claims where it has jurisdiction. Most criminal trials are heard in front of a judge sitting alone but some serious matters will be heard by juries.


District Court


The District Court of Western Australia is a superior court. This means that it deals with serious crimes like rape, murder, treason, drug trafficking, fraud and some kinds of firearms offences. It also deals with civil claims involving amounts over $50 000.


Magistrates Court


The first level of court in Australia is usually a local court, known as a magistrates’ court. These courts are presided over by magistrates—justices of peace with authority to hear minor criminal matters, small civil claims, some family law cases and traffic offenses. In larger cities, magistrates often specialize; for example, one magistrate might preside over traffic matters while another handles criminal trials. Magistrates also hear bail applications from prisoners who are awaiting trial on more serious charges.


State Administrative Tribunal


The State Administrative Tribunal deals with decisions made by local government. The SAT also hears planning disputes. This is a relatively new court, established in July 2000, so few precedents exist. When there are precedents that apply to a case before them, SAT members must follow them just as Supreme Court judges do when they hear cases in their courts.


Children’s Court


The Children’s Court hears cases involving children under 18 years of age who have been charged with criminal offences. It also has jurisdiction over any matter relating to a child, including welfare, where it is alleged that a child may have breached civil laws such as those regarding public nuisance or safety. The court can impose penalties which include fines, community-based orders (for example supervision orders) or detention in a juvenile facility. The Children’s Court cannot impose imprisonment as punishment for its own criminal convictions.


Coroner’s Court


A Coroner’s court is not a criminal court. A coroner investigates deaths in circumstances where there may be a question as to how, why or by whose hand death occurred. In some states a coroner will conduct inquests when people die in police custody, for example. In other jurisdictions coroners must call an inquest if asked to do so by any one of three specified persons – usually it is family members who are asking for an inquest to be held into their loved one’s death.


Warden’s Court


When a crime involves an Aboriginal person, as long as it does not involve violence, or is not a breach of a government-enforced law (such as being drunk in public), or was not committed with one of their weapons, then there is no police involvement. Any punishment has to be decided by tribal leaders and administered by elders. In these cases, instead of using lawyers and judges, there are people called wardens who hear both sides’ stories before making a decision about what happened.




If you need to win a case in court, you will want to hire one of Australia’s top criminal defence lawyers. Australian courts vary on how they deal with criminal cases, but most follow similar standards. Read on for some basic information about defending yourself in court. If you are charged with a crime and would like more information about how Australian courts work, consider talking to a lawyer who can advise you of your rights under local law and help you build your case before your trial begins.

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