Victoria's courts and tribunals

Victoria's courts and tribunals

Some courts have more power than others. This is called the court hierarchy. The Magistrates’ Court sits at the bottom of this hierarchy followed by the County Court, then the Supreme Court.

Generally if a person does not agree with the decision that a court makes they can appeal to a higher court. Decisions made by judges in the more powerful courts have to be followed by all courts below them.

Magistrates’ Court

The Magistrates' Court deals with most legal disputes in Victoria.

The court’s criminal jurisdiction hears 'summary matters' (less serious charges which are heard and decided by a magistrate), including traffic offences, minor assaults, property damage and offensive behaviour. Some 'indictable offences' (more serious charges that may be heard by a judge and jury of a higher court) may also be heard and decided by a magistrate if the accused agrees. These offences include burglary and theft.

In civil matters, such as negligence claims, contract disputes and claims for repair and injury from car accidents, the Magistrates' Court can decide most disputes about money or property up to the value of $100,000 (in some cases the court can deal with unlimited value).

Specialised areas of the Magistrates’ Court include the Family Violence Court, the Drug Court, and the Koori Court.

County Court

The County Court deals with more serious crimes and with claims for amounts over $100,000. Cases in the County Court may be heard by a judge and jury.

If a decision made in the Magistrates' Court is to be appealed, it usually goes to the County Court. The judge in the County Court can decide whether to agree with the magistrate's decision or make a different decision.

The main County Court is in the centre of Melbourne. County Court judges also visit major country towns to hear cases.

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court is Victoria’s highest court. Cases in the Supreme Court may be heard by a judge and jury. The court is divided into the Trial Division and the Court of Appeal.

The Trial Division hears very serious criminal cases, like murder, and deals with large disputes over money and business. Claims for $200,000 and above in civil justice matters are heard in the Supreme Court.

The Court of Appeal hears appeals about decisions made in the County Court and in the Trial Division of the Supreme Court

Children’s Court

The Children's Court operates like the Magistrates' Court but specialises in children's matters.

The Criminal Division of the court hears all charges except offences resulting in death or attempted murder, which must be heard in an adult court. For a matter to be heard in the Children's Court the person must have been between the ages of 10 and under 18 at the time of the offence. They must also be under 19 at when their proceeding commences (when the charge is filed).

The Family Division of the Children’s Court hears protection applications, breaches of welfare orders, changes to welfare orders, irreconcilable differences applications and applications for permanent care. Applications for family violence and personal safety intervention orders are also held in this division.

Coroners Court

The Coroners Court investigates deaths that happen unexpectedly, when the reason for the death is not known or when a body cannot be identified.

The coroner will try to find out why the death happened. Sometimes the coroner will make reports with recommendations to try to prevent similar deaths happening again.

Neighbourhood Justice Centre

The Neighbourhood Justice Centre (NJC) deals with a range of court and tribunal matters. It operates as a Magistrates' Court, Children's Court, ​Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) and Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal (VOCAT). It is committed to resolving disputes by addressing the underlying causes of harmful behaviour and tackling social disadvantage.

The community justice centre is for people who live in the City of Yarra and have to attend court. Indigenous people may have matters listed at the NJC if they have a strong connection with the area. The NJC can also hear matters for a homeless person if an offence was committed in the City of Yarra.

Tribunals

Tribunals are less formal than courts and are usually a quicker and cheaper way of resolving disputes. Often people involved in a case at the tribunal will be able to represent themselves.

VCAT deals with a wide range of everyday legal disputes. It has three divisions, each specialising in different types of cases:

  • the Civil Division deals with consumer matters, retail tenancy disputes, owners corporation disputes, sale and ownership of property, and use or flow of water between properties
  • the Administrative Division deals with applications from people seeking review of government decisions that affect them, including decisions from the Transport Accident Commission, state taxation, legal services, freedom of information applications, assessments by the Victorian Workcover Authority, business regulation and planning decisions
  • the Residential Tenancies Division deals with disputes between landlords and tenants, owners of rooming houses and residents and btween the Director of Housing amd tenants
  • the Human Rights Division deals with matters that include guardianship administration, equal opportunity, racial and religious vilification, health and information privacy and decisions made by the Mental Health Review Tribunal.

VCAT encourages parties to settle their disputes before the matter goes to a hearing, by attending mediation or a compulsory conference. Hearings and mediations take place in central Melbourne as well as in venues across metropolitan and regional Victoria.

See VCAT’s website for more information about the lists and types of cases that can be dealt with at the tribunal.

Other Victorian tribunals include the Mental Health Tribunal and the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal.

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