Commonwealth courts and tribunals

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Commonwealth courts and tribunals

Courts at the Commonwealth (national) level are the:

Federal Circuit Court

The jurisdiction of the Federal Circuit Court includes:

  • family law – disputes over children, property settlements and divorces
  • some child support, administrative law, bankruptcy, unlawful discrimination, consumer protection and trade practices, privacy, migration, copyright, industrial law and admiralty (maritime) law.

Federal Court

The Federal Court 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).

Family Court

The Family Court hears more complex family law matters, including property, maintenance and issues with children, such as contact and residence, and marriage annulments. The Family Court focuses on achieving results that are in the best interest of children and encouraging people to come to their own agreements using mediation and counselling.

The Full Court of the Family Court hears family law appeals from the Federal Circuit Court and also from decisions by a single judge in the Family Court.

High Court

The High Court 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 Tribunal reviews administrative decisions by a range of government and not-government bodies. This tribunal has expanded to include a:

  • Migration and Refugee Division, which reviews certain decisions about visas to travel to, enter or stay in Australia
  • Social Service and Child Support Division, which hears appeals against Centrelink and most Child Support Agency decisions.
  • Veteran Appeals Division, which hears some decisions by the Department of Veterans' Affairs.

Other federal tribunals include the:

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