We provide advice to government on issues about the federal courts. These include:
- the conferral of jurisdiction on courts and related issues
- the role, structure and administration of the federal courts
- court operations and resources
- matters arising under legislation relating to federal courts and judiciary
- judicial and other statutory appointments to federal courts
- terms and conditions applying to federal judicial officers.
Separation of powers and independence of judges
The power to make laws in Australia is divided between the executive, the parliament and the judiciary. This is known as the separation of powers doctrine and is an essential feature of the Australian system of government.
Under Australia’s Constitution, our judiciary is independent from the other arms of government. The separation of powers doctrine means that in interpreting and applying the law, judicial officers act independently and without interference from the parliament or the executive. The constitutional guarantees of tenure and remuneration assist in securing judicial independence.
Federal judicial officers are appointed by the government of the day and cannot be removed from office except on the grounds of proved misbehavior or incapacity. The remuneration of judicial officers cannot be reduced while the judge holds office.
Australia’s federal courts
Chapter III of the Constitution establishes the High Court of Australia and empowers parliament to create other federal courts and to vest federal judicial power in state and territory courts.
There are 3 principal federal courts:
High Court of Australia
The High Court of Australia is the highest court and the final court of appeal in Australia
It hears matters involving a dispute about the meaning of the Constitution, as well as final appeals in civil and criminal matters from all courts in Australia.
Federal Court of Australia
The Federal Court of Australia hears matters on a range of different subject matter including:
- industrial relations
- native title
- taxation and trade practices laws.
It also hears appeals from decisions (except family law decisions) of the Federal Circuit Court.
Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia
The Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFCOA) commenced operation on 1 September 2021.
It compromises 2 divisions:
- Division 1 is a continuation of the Family Court of Australia and deals only with family law matters.
- Division 2 is a continuation of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia and deals with both family law and general law matters. It will hear less complex family law matters and disputes in administrative law, admiralty law, bankruptcy, copyright, human rights, industrial law, migration, privacy and trade practices.
All federal family law matters will be filed in Division 2 and then, if required, will progress to Division 1.
Division 1 retains jurisdiction to hear family law appeals and all Division 1 judges are able to hear appeals as either a single judge or as part of a Full Court.
The FCFCOA sits in each state and territory except Western Australia, where family law matters are heard by a state court: the Family Court of Western Australia.
State and territory courts
Each state and territory has their own laws and court system. State and territory courts fall within the responsibilities of the relevant state or territory Attorney‑General or Minister for Justice.