Court Jurisdiction




Special Features

Local Court

· Deals with summary offences.

· Committal hearings are held here to determine if prima facie exists.

· No appellate jurisdiction.

· No jury.

Children’s Court

· Has jurisdiction over almost every offence (except homicide, sexual assault, and traffic offences).

· Used by individuals less than 18 y/old.

· Tries to rehabilitate the child offender.

· Children cannot serve time in an adult prison.

· Closed to the public.

Coroner’s Court

· Covers matters where the cause of death of a person, or the cause of a fire is unknown.

· Investigations carried out by a coroner

· Determines if a criminal act has been committed

Drug Court

· Court set up to assist and manage offenders who have a drug addiction.

· Made from the Drug Court Act 1998 (NSW) and the Drug Court Regulation 2005 (NSW).

District Court

· All indictable offences except murder/attempted murder, treason, sexual assault, and kidnapping.

· Presided by judges.

· Jury is present.

Supreme Court

· Hears the most serious offences.

· Appeals where the magistrate has made an error in their interpretation of law.

· Consists of a Chief Justice and a bench of justices.

· There is a jury of 12.

Court of Criminal Appeal

· Hears appeals from the Local Court on questions of law, the District Court, and single judge decisions in the Supreme Court

· It can only be overruled if new evidence is found, or the original acquittal was tainted.

Federal Court of Australia

· Only has jurisdiction over a few criminal matters, i.e. those arising under the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth) and breaches of copyright


High Court

· Only has original jurisdiction in constitutional matters

· Highest court of appeal. Those cases that are appealed to the high court must:

  • Relate to a matter of public importance.
  • Resolve confusion between earlier rulings of various courts.

· There is no original criminal jurisdiction

· Highest court in Australia

Jurisdiction means the area over which a court has authority. People in NSW are subject to two court systems because of the constitutional division of power.

NSW Courts: Criminal Jurisdiction

The criminal jurisdiction of each court within the NSW court system depends on the type of case and the seriousness of each offence

– Role of the Local Court: hear minor criminal offences (summary), hear committal proceedings for more serious crimes (indictable), conduct coronial inquiries, conduct Children’s Court hearings, divert some drug offender from the court system in order to receive treatment.

– Role of the District Court: hear indictable offences, hear appeals from the local court

– Role of the Supreme Court: To hear the most serious indictable offences eg. murder

– Role of the Court of Criminal Appeal: hears appeals from the district and supreme court. Can hear appeals from the local court on questions of law only

– Role of the High Court: hear appeals from the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal on questions of law. Hears appeals from the Local Court on questions of law only.

Local Court

– Hears summary offences

– A defendant can have a summary hearing or a trial by jury depending on what type of offence he or she has allegedly committed, that is whether it is c summary or indictable offence

– Indictable offences are split into three categories:

– Table One Offences: dealt with summarily unless either the prosecution or the accused elects to have the matter dealt with by a judge/jury

– Table Two Offences: those dealt with summarily unless the prosecution decides to have the offence dealt with by a judge and jury

– Strictly Indictable Offences: are the most serious offence and are dealt with by a judge/jury

Summary Hearings

– This hearing is heard in a local court and is decided by a magistrate alone

Committal Hearings

– Are preliminary proceedings for trial by jury. The prosecutor must convince the magistrate there is prima facie case. If this is decided then there will be a trial by jury.

Children’s Court Hearing

– Charges against people under 18 are heard in a special Children’s court hearing

– The proceedings are the same as those of a summary hearing with some expectations

Coronial Inquiries

– Where there is unnatural death or an unexplained fire, a coroner will hold an inquest into the circumstances.

– The proceedings are more inquisitorial than normal court proceedings.

– If there is evidence of a person committing a serious offence, an indictment will be issued and the person will be tried by a judge and jury in the usual way

The Drug Court of NSW

– Handles non-violent cases committed by adult offenders who are dependent on illegal drugs.

– Aims to get offended off drugs, not punish

– Runs a 12 month drug court program as an alternative to imprisonment

– Takes referrals from local and district court

District Court

– Has jurisdiction over indictable criminal offences except for murder and other very serious crimes

– Heard by a judge and jury

– Also hears appeals regarding decisions by magistrate in most criminal matters

Supreme Court

– Hears very serious indictable matters such as murder ,complex drug cases and arson

– Heard by judge and jury

– Sits as the Court of Criminal Appeal

The Court of Criminal Appeal

– Has a panel of three to five judges

– It hears appeal from: the local court on questions of law, district court and single judge decisions in the Supreme Court

An appeal is when a case is taken to a higher court because either party disagrees with the decision of a lower court. The higher court may then change the decision. In order for an appeal to succeed, the appellant (party who disagrees with the decision) must show that the lower court judge either wrongly used or misinterpreted the law, no new evidence or fact can be heard. The system of appeals helps ensure the effect of wrong decisions made by a judge or magistrate when exercising their discretion are minimised.

The Federal Court of Australia

– Most criminal matters come under state jurisdiction although there are some that are heard by the Federal Court of Australia

– Such as those arising under the Trade Practices Act 1974 (Cth) and breaches of copyright

The High Court of Australia

– In criminal matters, the High Court hears appeals from the Federal Court of Australia and from the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal


Extract from Legal Studies Stage 6 Syllabus. © 2009 Board of Studies NSW.