LWB145 Week Seven Lecture Notes
The Court Hierarchy
Queensland Court Hierarchy
o Original civil jurisdiction
o Original criminal jurisdiction
o Appellate jurisdiction
Federal Court Hierarchy
o Original civil jurisdiction
o Original criminal jurisdiction
o Appellate jurisdiction
Brief word about other tribunals and Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)
What is meant by ‘jurisdiction’?
Jurisdiction means the ‘scope of a court’s power to examine and determine facts, interpret and apply the
law, make orders and declare judgment. Jurisdiction may be limited by the geographic area, the types of
parties who appear, the type of relief that can be sought and the point to be decided’. (Butterworths
Australian Legal Dictionary)
Each court has a different jurisdiction.
Note different kinds of jurisdictions include: state v federal; civil v criminal; original v appellate.
Original Jurisdiction in Federal and Queensland Courts for Civil Matters
Federal (Commonwealth) laws set up Federal Courts and give them jurisdiction over matters such as:
o Trade practices/consumer protection;
o Taxation, bankruptcy/insolvency;
o Family law.
State laws set up State Courts and give them jurisdiction over matters such as:
o Enforcing contracts;
o Remedies in tort (e.g. negligence, trespass, defamation);
o Land law.
Superior, Inferior and Intermediate Courts
The most serious and costly cases are handled by the highest level of courts in the first instance – that is,
when they go to trial.
These courts are referred to as ‘superior courts’ e.g. Supreme Court of Queensland
Minor criminal offences or civil proceedings where less money is involved are heard by ‘inferior courts’ e.g.
Queensland Magistrates Court.
In most jurisdictions there is also a court in between the inferior and superior courts, called ‘intermediate
courts’. An example is the Queensland District Court.
Note that intermediate courts have a similar jurisdiction (power to hear cases) to the superior courts except
that they have some financial or other limitation in civil matters, or are limited as to the types of offences
they may hear in criminal matters.
Recent Changes in Queensland
A review of the state’s criminal and civil justice systems was recently completed – the Moynihan Report.
On 21 July 2009 reforms were announced (which are now in force) to the jurisdictions of Queensland courts
based on the findings of this report:
o An expansion in the type of criminal cases to be heard and tried summarily in the Magistrates Court
and reforms to the committal process;
o An increase in the criminal jurisdiction of the District Court, from indictable offences with a
maximum penalty of 14 years or less, to those with a maximum of 20 years;
o An increase in the monetary limits for civil disputes in the District Court, Magistrates Court Original Jurisdiction of Courts in Queensland – Civil Matters
Magistrates courts are situated in centres all around Queensland e.g. Charleville to Cairns, Maryborough to
There are over 80 Magistrates in Queensland.
The current Chief Magistrate is Brendan Butler (Judge of the District Court).
Magistrates Courts Act 1921 (Qld): see especially ss 2, 4
o Section 2 Definitions – ‘prescribed limit means $150,000’
o Section 4 Jurisdiction of Magistrates Courts
Subject to this Act—
(a) every personal action in which the amount claimed is not more than the prescribed
limit, whether on a balance of account or after an admitted set off or otherwise; and
(b) every action brought to recover a sum of not more than the prescribed limit which is the
whole or part of the unliquidated balance of a partnership account, or the amount or part of the
amount of the distributive share under an intestacy or of a legacy under a will; and
(c) every action in which a person has an equitable claim or demand against another person
in respect of which the only relief sought is the recovery of a sum of money or of damages, whether
liquidated or unliquidated, and the amount claimed is not more than the prescribed limit
may be commenced in a Magistrates Court, and all Magistrates Courts shall within their
respective districts have power and authority to hear and determine in a summary way all such
District courts are found in cities and major provincial towns.
Brisbane, Beenleigh, Southport, Ipswich, Maroochydore, Rockhampton, Townsville and Cairns have
permanent judges. Circuits are scheduled to other centres.
The current Chief Judge is Patricia Wolfe.
The District Court is a more extensive equitable jurisdiction than the Magistrates Court including the power,
in certain defined circumstances, to make orders for specific performance and declarations and to grant
District Court of Queensland Act 1967 (Qld) ; see especially s 68
o 68 Civil jurisdiction
(1) The District Court has jurisdiction to hear and determine—
(a) all personal actions, where the amount, value or damage sought to be recovered does
not exceed the monetary limit including—
(i) any equitable claim or demand for recovery of money or damages, whether liquidated or
(2) In this section—
monetary limit means $750000
Supreme courts are located in Brisbane, Rockhampton, Cairns and Townsville.
The current Chief Justice is Paul de Jersey.
Two pieces of legislation: Supreme Court of Queensland Act 1991 (Qld) and the Supreme Court Act 1995
Civil jurisdiction is not limited as to amount and the Supreme Court has a complete equitable jurisdiction –
i.e. can award the full range of equitable remedies.
Why, then, aren’t all civil cases heard in the Supreme Court?
An appeal is ‘an application to a higher court to reconsider the decision of a lower court, on the ground that
there has been an error in the decision of the lower court’ (Butterworths Concise Australian Legal Dictionary)
An appeal can exist either ‘as of right’ or ‘with leave’.
When heard, appeals may be dismissed, upheld, remitted to a lower court to reconsider, or allowed in part. Court of Appeal
The Court of Appeal is a division of the Supreme Court.
Some judges appointed as judges of appeal – i.e. they will not conduct trials.
Judges of the Supreme Court, trial division, also sit in appeal from time to time.
Current President is Margaret McMurdo.
Court of Appeal is constituted by 3 or - very rarely - 5 judges.
The Court of Appeal replaced the Full Court of the Supreme Court of Queensland.
There is no original jurisdiction.
Appellate jurisdiction of courts in Queensland – Civil Matters
Rights of appeal are granted by legislation:
o Section 45 Magistrates Courts Act 1921 (Qld)
o Schedule 3 Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 2009 (Qld) (definitions minor civil
dispute; prescribed amount)
need leave of the District Court where not more than $25,000 (minor civil dispute amount)
Section 118 District Courts Act 1967 (Qld)
o Need leave of Court of Appeal where less than $150,000 (Magistrates Court jurisdictional limit)
Sections 35, 35A Judiciary Act 1903 (Cth)
o Special leave always required to appeal to the High Court of Australia – the ‘My God’ test
High Courts – Criteria for Granting Special Leave
35A of Judiciary Act 1902 (Cth) – Criteria for granting special leave to appeal
In considering whether to grant an application for special leave to appeal to the High Court under this Act or under
any other Act, the High Court may have regard to any matters that it considers relevant but shall have regard to:
(a) whether the proceedings…involve a question of law:
(i) that is of public importance, whether because of its general application or otherwise; or
(ii) in respect of which a decision of the High Court, as the final appellate court, is required to resolve
differences of opinion between different courts, or within the one court, as to the state of the law;
(iii) whether the interests of the administration of justice, either generally or in the particular case, require
consideration by the High Court of the judgment to which the application relates.
Original Jurisdiction of Federal Courts – Civil Matters
Federal Circuit Court
Federal Court and Family Court
Full Federal Court and Full Family Court
High Court of Australia
Federal Circuit Court (previously Federal Magistrates Court)
Current Chief Judge is John Pascoe.
Created by Federal Magistrates Act 1999 (Cth) and commenced 3 July 2003.
Created to ease pressure on Federal and Family Courts and shares registries of the Family and Federal
Renamed by Federal Circuit Court of Australia Legislation Amendment Act 2012 commenced 11 April 2013.
Approx 80% of workload is in family law but also hears matters involving administrative law, bankruptcy,
human rights, consumer protection and trade practices, privacy, migration, copyright, industrial law and
admiralty law. Federal Court
Current Chief Justice is James Allsop.
Created by the Federal Court of Australia Act 1976 and commenced 1 February 1977
Queensland registries in Brisbane and Townsville.
The Federal Court's original jurisdictio