When a court has jurisdiction or authority to hear a

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in a civil matter, the further up in the court hierarchy will the matter be heard. When a court has jurisdiction or authority to hear a legal matter for the first time without that matter being referred to any other court, the court has what is known as original jurisdiction over that legal area. For instance, the District Courts in Queensland and Western Australia have original jurisdiction over a civil claim for up to $250,000, but would not have original jurisdiction to hear a charge of murder, which comes within the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. Similarly, courts, which are lowest in the hierarchy, have original jurisdiction over minor offences and for small claims of money. Power to hear appeals [2.2] The hierarchy of the courts will also determine the appellate jurisdiction of a court. The appellate function of a court refers to its jurisdiction or authority to hear appeals from courts lower in the hierarchy. The lowest court in the hierarchy has no appellate jurisdiction. Thus, the High Court can hear appeals from any court in the Australian system, whereas a Magistrates Court has no jurisdiction to hear appeals. The highest court for Australia was originally the ‘Judicial Committee of the Privy Council’. This was a court located in England and composed of judges from Commonwealth countries including judges from the United Kingdom House of Lords. Appeals to this court were 15
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CO5119:03 Business Law SUBJECT MATERIALS >> SCHOOL OF LAW JAMES COOK UNIVERSITY gradually eroded by Australian legislation, and the final appeal court in Australia is now the High Court of Australia. Each of the States of Australia has its own court hierarchy, as does the federal court system. The High Court of Australia is a federal court and is at the peak of both the federal and State court hierarchies. The State courts generally have jurisdiction to hear matters falling within State law. These would be matters such as civil disputes involving contract law, property law and claims for injuries, as well as criminal law. The State Courts Courts of summary jurisdiction [2.3] At the lowest rung of the State hierarchy are the courts of summary jurisdiction; they hear more than 90% of all matters in the system. They are known as summary courts because they deal with minor or summary offences, as well as small claims for compensation and other lesser civil matters. Summary courts are presided over by a magistrate. A magistrate is not a judge, but rather a judicial officer of lower rank. In some States a ‘Justice of the Peace’ can preside over this court. The magistrate used to be addressed in court as ‘your worship’ but is now referred to as ‘your honour’ The decisions of summary courts are not recorded in law reports. Summary courts are less formal than other courts in the hierarchy. For instance, less emphasis is given to procedure and dress, and solicitors will often appear rather than a barrister. Matters before the court are generally heard very quickly, with the magistrate more likely to give a lesser penalty than a higher court (possibly a bond or community service for a minor conviction). It is said by some
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