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The Federal Court of Australia

The Federal Court of Australia in a superior court of federal jurisdiction. It deals with civil disputes (other than family law disputes) that arise under federal law and with Commonwealth criminal matters. Cases are decided by a single judge at first instance. The court also contains an appeal division known as the Full Court of the Federal Court.

The current Chief Justice of the Federal Court is James Allsop.

The Full Court of the Federal Court of Australia

The Full Court of the Federal Court consists of a panel of three of more judges. Some Federal Court matters must be heard by the Full Court of the Federal Court. These are:

  • Matters that are referred by the President of Fair Work on a question of law;
  • Matters that the Chief Justice has determined are of sufficient importance that they should be heard by the Full Court;
  • Appeals in circumstances set out in legislation such as section 44(3) of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act 1975.

The appellate jurisdiction of the Federal Court

The appellate jurisdiction of the Federal Court hears appeals against decisions by the Supreme Court of Norfolk Island in civil and criminal matters. It also hears appeals against state supreme court decisions in some federal matters as well as decisions by the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority and the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.

Practice areas

The Federal Court hears matters in a number of national practice areas. These are outlined below.

Administrative and Constitutional Law and Human Rights matters

The Federal Court deals with judicial review of decisions by Commonwealth government authorities relating to the legality (as opposed to the merit) of the decision. It hears appeals on matters of law from decisions of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT), the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal National Native Title Tribunal. It also deals with unlawful discrimination matters that are no longer the subject of investigation by the Australian Human Rights Commission and constitutional matters.

Admiralty and maritime matters

The Federal Court also hears proceedings relating to admiralty and maritime disputes including marine insurance, cargo claims and in rem proceedings and in personam proceedings.

Commercial and corporate matters

The Federal Court hears commercial and corporate matters that arise out of the federal jurisdiction. This includes commercial contracts, banking and finance matters; corporations and corporate insolvency matters; general and provisional insolvency matters; regulator and consumer protection matters; economic regulator competition and access; and international commercial arbitration.

Employment and industrial relations

The Federal Court also hears civil and criminal matters that arise under the Fair Work jurisdiction, including workplace-related applications, writs of mandamus or prohibition, injunctions, declarations, prosecutions, and matters that have been transferred from the Federal Circuit Court, the Fair Work Commission or other courts.

Federal Crime

The Federal Court also hears federal crime matters, including prosecutions, appeals, bail applications and matters relating to the confiscation of assets under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.

Intellectual property

The Federal Court hears matters relating to patents, trademarks, copyrght, designs, circuit layouts and appeals from the Commissioner of Patents or Registrar of Trade Marks.

Native title

The Federal Court is responsible for hearing native title claims about the rights and interests of Indigenous people to lands and waters on the basis of their traditional laws and customs. It also hears reviews and appeals from decisions of the National Native Title Tribunal and matters relating ot agreements under the Native Title Act.


The Federal Court hears matters relating to appeals under the Taxation Administration Act against decisions of the Commissioner of Taxation, questions of law and taxation on appeal from the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and recovery proceedings following tax disputes.

Court sittings

The Federal Court sits in all capital cities from February to mid-December every year. The Full Court of the Federal Court and the Appellate sittings of the Federal Court are held for three-week blocks on a quarterly basis.  When it is necessary, the court may hear matters on dates other than those listed in its calendar.

If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.

Fernanda Dahlstrom

This article was written by Fernanda Dahlstrom

Fernanda Dahlstrom has a Bachelor of Laws, a Bachelor of Arts and a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice. She has also completed a Master’s in Writing and Literature. Fernanda practised law for eight years, working in criminal defence, child protection and domestic violence law in the Northern Territory and in family law in Queensland.

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