Courts and Tribunals

Contributed by Hannah Lee and current to March 2022

Courts and tribunals both exist to resolve legal disputes, however, both do so in different ways.

Courts are staffed by judges and magistrates, who all sit in courtrooms. Judges and magistrates hear legal disputes and determine the outcome. This setting is adversarial and the losing party may be required to pay the opponent’s costs. As a result, taking a dispute to court is often expensive and time-consuming. To ease this financial burden, most courts now require litigants to attempt to resolve their dispute through alternative dispute resolution methods, such as mediation or conciliation, before it goes to a full hearing.

Tribunals are specialist bodies which operate alongside the courts. Their jurisdictions are limited to dealing with certain subject matter. Tribunals are staffed by legal professionals and other subject matter experts. Tribunals are different from courts in a number of ways:
  • Tribunals will have regard to other considerations in addition to the law;
  • Tribunals are less formal and less adversarial than courts;
  • Legal representation is not always required at tribunal hearings;
  • Tribunals are often ‘no cost’ jurisdictions meaning that parties cannot have cost orders made against them except in exceptional circumstances;
  • The rules of evidence do not always apply to Tribunal hearings;
  • Tribunals complete matters faster than courts.

Courts located in the ACT

ACT Courts

The Magistrate's Court
The Magistrate’s Court hears civil matters involving amounts of up to $250,000 and criminal offences which carry sentences of up to two years’ imprisonment.

The Supreme Court
The Supreme Court hears appeals from the Magistrates Court, the Children’s Court and ACAT. Criminal trials for serious offences are also heard by the Supreme Court, along with civil claims relating to amounts greater than $250,000.

The Coroner’s Court
The Coroner’s Court conducts investigations into deaths which occur, or are suspected to have occurred, in specific circumstances. Such circumstances include a person dying in custody, in unknown circumstances or as a result of medical treatment.

The Children’s Court
The Children’s Court hears criminal cases against people under the age of 18. The court also hears applications and other proceedings made under the Children and Young People Act 2008 (ACT).

The Industrial Court
The Industrial Court was established in 2011 and hears matters related to workplace health and safety. It deals with civil and criminal matters arising from the Work Health and Safety Act 2011(Cth), Workers Compensation Act 1951 (ACT), Scaffolding and Lifts Act 1912 (ACT), Dangerous Substances Act 2004(ACT) and the Machinery Act 1949 (ACT).

Jervis Bay Court
The laws of the ACT apply to the Jervis Bay territory. As a result, the ACT Magistrates court sometimes sits at the Jervis Bay Court.

Galambany Court
The Galambany Court is a specialist court which assists the ACT Magistrates Court with finding culturally effective sentencing options for eligible Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This court is different from other courts because Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander elders contribute to the sentencing process.

Family Violence Court
The Family Violence Court hears matters concerning bail determinations for adults charged with domestic violence, breaches of domestic violence offence sentences, and any proceedings against adults in relation to indictable and summary domestic violence offences.

Commonwealth Courts

The Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia
The Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia was established by the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia Act 2021 and brings together the previous separate Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia. The court deals with family law, migration law and general federal law, including matters related to bankruptcy, fair work, human rights, admiralty, administrative and intellectual property.

The Federal Court of Australia
The Federal Court hears disputes which arise because of a federal Act. The Court has a broad range of civil law jurisdiction and maintains a court in every capital city in Australia.

High Court of Australia
The High Court is the superior court in Australia. It is the final court of appeal from the other courts. It also has original jurisdiction to hear Constitutional law matters.

Tribunals located in the ACT

ACT Tribunals

The Australian Capital Territory Civil and Administrative Tribunal (ACAT)
The ACAT hears a range of matters including civil disputes (with the amount in dispute up to $25,000), guardianship matters, neighbourhood disputes, residential tenancy agreement disputes, appeals of some ACT Government administrative decisions and professional/occupational disciplinary matters.

More information about the ACAT is available on its website.

The Australian Capital Territory Remuneration Tribunal
The ACT Remuneration Tribunal handles issues of pay, allowances and entitlements paid to public office holders in the ACT.

Commonwealth Tribunals

The Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT)
The AAT reviews decisions made under some federal laws. These include decisions about immigration, the national disability insurance scheme, Centrelink, tax, veteran pensions and freedom of information.

Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) Tribunal
The ASX Tribunal is responsible for reviewing enforcement decisions made by the ASX. It is staffed by industry professionals.

Australian Competition Tribunal
The Australian Competition Tribunal reviews decisions made by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

Classification Review Board
The Classification Review Board re-assesses classification when a decision by the Classification Board is appealed.

The Review Board will re-assess classifications of films, computer games, internet content and publications. It also makes decisions about other things, such as film festivals.

Companies Auditors and Liquidators Disciplinary Board (CADB)
The Companies Auditors and Liquidators Disciplinary Board is an expert disciplinary tribunal. It hears matters relating to the cancellation or suspension of auditors under the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth).

Copyright Tribunal of Australia
The Copyright Tribunal of Australia makes decisions relating to copyright licenses in Australia.

Defence Force Discipline Appeal Tribunal
The Defence Force Discipline Appeal Tribunal hears appeals from decisions made by martial courts and Defence Force magistrates about Australian Defence Force staff service offences. This includes determinations about service offence convictions and acquittals arising from an ‘unsound mind’.

Defence Honours and Awards Appeals Tribunal
The Defence Honours and Awards Appeals Tribunal hears matters relating to awards and honours given to defence personnel. It ensures awards are allocated fairly to recipients.

Fair Work Commission
The Fair Work Commission is the workplace regulator for working Australians. This commission is particularly important if you experience an underpayment of wages, unfair dismissal, bullying or an injury at work.

National Native Title Tribunal
The National Native Title Tribunal makes decisions, administers reviews and medications and conducts enquires about native title applications and Indigenous land use agreements. It also maintains the National Native Title Register, the Register of Native Title Claims and the Register of Indigenous Land Use Agreements.

Professional Services Review
The key function of the Professional Services Review is to protect the community from inappropriate professional practice. It investigates the conduct of medical professionals, and may apply penalties, as a means of reducing government costs which occur because of inappropriate practice.

Superannuation Complaints Tribunal
This Superannuation Complaints Tribunal deals with unfair or unreasonable conduct or decisions of trustees, insurers and other decision-makers, in relation to superannuation funds, approved deposit funds, annuities, life insurance funds and retirement savings accounts.

Veterans' Review Board
The Veterans’ Review Board reviews Repatriation Commission decisions aboutclaims relating to war-caused or defence-caused injuries or diseases, claims relating to widows’, widowers’ and orphans’ pensions, assessments for pension rate for incapacity and claims for the grant or assessment of attendant allowance.

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