This article was written by Fernanda Dahlstrom - Content Editor - Brisbane

Fernanda Dahlstrom has a Bachelor of Laws, a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts. She also completed a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice at the College of Law in Victoria. 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.

New South Wales Courts


The New South Wales court system is made up of the Local Court, the District Court, the Supreme Court and the Children’s Court. The Federal Court, the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court also operate in New South Wales, exercising federal jurisdiction. There are also various tribunals in New South Wales, including the NSW Administrative AppealsTribunal (NAAT). Decisions of New South Wales courts can be appealed to the High Court of Australia, whose decision is final and binding on all Australian courts.

Local court

The New South Wales Local Court is the lowest court in New South Wales. It is presided over by a magistrate and handles traffic matters, summary crime and minor civil disputes as well as applications for Apprehended Violence Orders (AVOs). The Local Court also deals with applications for bail and the issue of warrants.

There are Local Courts situated in numerous suburbs of Sydney as well as in the Sydney CBD and in regional centres.

Local Court decisions can be appealed to the Supreme Court.

Children’s Court

The New South Wales Children’s Court deals with summary criminal matters where the accused is between the ages of 10 and 18. It also deals with care and protection of children matters, compulsory schooling orders and Apprehended Violence Orders where the defendant is under 18.

The Children’s Court can sentence young people to a range of penalties including youth detention. While it follows most of the same processes as the Local Court, its sentences are more heavily geared towards facilitating the rehabilitation of the young person and its sittings are less formal than the Local Court.

Strictly indictable criminal matters where the accused in under 18 must be committed to the District Court or Supreme Court for finalisation.

Children’s Court decisions can be appealed to the Supreme Court.

District Court

The New South Wales District Court has the power to deal with serious criminal matters with the exception of murder and treason (which must be finalised in the Supreme Court.) District Court trials are heard by a judge and jury of 12 citizens chosen at random from the electoral roll. A person facing trial in the District Court can also apply for the matter to be heard by a judge alone.

The District Court also hears civil matters that involve claims of between $100,000 and $750,000, including breaches of contract, defamation and personal injury matters. It also hears motor vehicle accident cases.

Decisions of the District Court can be appealed to the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeal.

Supreme Court

The New South Wales Supreme Court is responsible for hearing the most serious criminal matters, such as murder and treason. Its criminal trials are heard by a judge and jury and it can impose significant penalties, including life imprisonment.

The Supreme Court also hears complex civil matters and civil matters involving amounts of more than $750,000. It has jurisdiction to deal with all grants in respect of deceased estates, including grants of probate and letters of administration.

Decisions of the Supreme Court can be appealed to the Court of Appeal.

Court of Appeal

The Court of Appeal is the final court of appeal in New South Wales. Its decisions can be appealed to the High Court of Australia with special leave to appeal in matters of public or general importance.

The Court of Appeal sits in panels of judges of the Supreme Court, generally constituted by three judges. When the judges disagree, the majority view prevails.

Civil appeals can be heard by two judges if they relate solely to the amount of compensation to be awarded in a personal injury matter or are a challenge to an interlocutory decision by a lower court.

Federal Circuit Court

The Federal Circuit Court of Australia (formerly the Federal Magistrates Court) deals with the bulk of family law, including parenting matters and property matters. It also deals with some migration law matters, such as reviews of decisions by Minister of Home Affairs, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and the Immigration Assessment Authority. The Federal Circuit Court also deals with general federal law including admiralty, intellectual property and privacy matters.

Family Court

The Family Court of Australia is responsible for hearing complex family law matters. Its jurisdiction overlaps with the jurisdiction of the Federal Circuit Court and parties often have a choice as to which court they initiate proceedings in.

The Family Court has registries in all states and territories except Western Australia.

Federal Court

The Federal Court deals with numerous areas of federal law, including migration, taxation, native title and intellectual property. It sits in all the capital cities of Australia.

The Federal Court has the power to decide appeals from certain judgments of courts of the states and territories, exercising federal jurisdiction, certain judgments of the Federal Circuit Court and judgments of a single judge of the federal court.

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

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