Victoria Legal Aid

Commonwealth courts and tribunals

Information about Commonwealth courts and tribunals.

Federal Court

The Federal CourtExternal Link hears cases such as native title, industrial disputes and bankruptcy matters. It has jurisdiction to hear appeals from the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and Federal Circuit Court (not family law appeals).

Federal Circuit and Family Court

From 1 September 2021, the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court merged. This means there will be one entry point for applicants. There will also be common forms, rules and procedures. The new court will have two divisions. The more complex matters and appeals will be usually be heard in Division 1. Division 2 will hear family law matters and general matters that were previously heard by the Federal Circuit Court such as industrial law, bankruptcy and privacy disputes. The court will decide which division a matter is heard in.

High Court

The High CourtExternal Link is the most senior court in the system. It usually only hears appeals where cases have already been argued in other courts, but either the judges could not agree or it is thought that a serious mistake has been made. A decision of the High Court is binding on all other Australian courts.

The only cases that go straight to the High Court are disputes between governments, often between states. If the states are in conflict, or the federal government wants to do something the states are not happy with, the High Court can decide what is allowed and what is not.

Commonwealth tribunals

Commonwealth tribunals do a variety of things. Some develop and apply policy. Others help people to resolve disputes by coming to an agreement. Others determine disputes in a way similar to a court. Most tribunals do a combination of these things. Many have powers to investigate situations and enforce the law.

The Administrative Appeals TribunalExternal Link (AAT) reviews administrative decisions by a range of government and non-government bodies. Matters that the AAT hear include reviews of:

  • migration and refugee matters, including certain decisions about visas to travel to, enter or stay in Australia and character-related visa decisions
  • Centrelink and Child Support Agency decisions
  • veteran entitlements and military compensation decisions by the Department of Veterans' Affairs
  • National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS)
  • workers compensation
  • citizenship
  • freedom of Information.

Note – if a person is not happy with an AAT review about a Centrelink or child support matter they may be able to apply for a second tier review from the General Practice Division, a separate part of the AAT.

Other federal tribunals include the:

Other support

Find out how you can get other support for courts and the legal system.

Disclaimer: The material in this print-out relates to the law as it applies in the state of Victoria. It is intended as a general guide only. Readers should not act on the basis of any material in this print-out without getting legal advice about their own particular situations. Victoria Legal Aid disclaims any liability howsoever caused to any person in respect of any action taken in reliance on the contents of the publication.

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Reviewed 11 May 2022

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