Division of Australian Criminal Courts

Australian criminal courts are divided into several categories, including: Local and Magistrate, District and County, Supreme, Federal and High courts. The court which hears a criminal trial depends on the severity of the offence in question.

Local and Magistrate Courts – Local and Magistrate Courts hear matters which are not too serious. The role of these courts in criminal matters varies across each state and territory. In New South Wales, for instance, 90 percent of criminal matters are dealt with by the Local Court. In the ACT, however, the Magistrate Court deals with criminal issues, to decide whether the accused should be sent to a high court for trial.

District and County Courts – District and County Courts are the next level up from Local and Magistrate Courts. Matters in these courts (generally criminal trials for indictable offences) are heard by a judge. These courts also conduct appeals heard in Local and Magistrate Courts.

Supreme Court – In each jurisdiction of the country, the Supreme Court is the highest court in each state or territory. The majority of Supreme courts conduct jury trials for the most serious of indictable offences, such as murder.

Supreme courts also hear appeals from lower courts. These appeals may be questions of fact (where the appellant alleges the Judge has made an error relating to the facts of a case), or questions of law (where the appellant contends the Judge has applied the law incorrectly).

There are special appeals divisions in Supreme Courts. For instance, the division in Victoria and Queensland is called the Court of Appeal. In New South Wales, the specialist division is called the Criminal Court of Appeal. This Court hears appeals based on questions of law from NSW Local and District Courts.

Federal Courts – Federal Courts hear matters created by federal legislation, which applies to all States and Territories.

High Court – As its name suggests, the High Court is the highest court in Australia. Any appeal which lands in the High Court relates to a question of law. That is, whether or not the law was interpreted correctly to reach the outcome of a particular case. These cases are usually highly publicised in the media, as special permission is required for any case to reach the High Court. And the outcome of these cases tend to result in dramatic changes in legislation.