The Court's Jurisdiction

Establishment

The Federal Court of Australia was created by the Federal Court of Australia Act 1976 and began to exercise its jurisdiction on 1 February 1977.

The Court is a superior court of record and a court of law and equity. It sits in all capital cities and elsewhere in Australia from time to time. 

The Court's workload is organised into nine National Practice Areas (NPAs). Further information on the NPAs can be found under National Court Framework.

Objectives

The objectives of the Court are to:

  • Decide disputes according to law - promptly, courteously and effectively and, in so doing, to interpret the statutory law and develop the general law of the Commonwealth, so as to fulfil
    the role of a court exercising the judicial power of the Commonwealth under the Constitution.
  • Provide an effective registry service to the community.
  • Manage the resources allotted by Parliament efficiently.

The Court’s jurisdiction

The Court’s jurisdiction is broad, covering almost all civil matters arising under Australian federal law and some summary and indictable criminal matters. It also has jurisdiction to hear and determine any matter arising under the Constitution through the operation of s 39B of the Judiciary Act 1903.

Central to the Court’s civil jurisdiction is s 39B(1A)c of the Judiciary Act. This jurisdiction includes cases created by a federal statute, and extends to matters in which a federal issue is properly raised as part of a claim or of a defence and to matters where the subject matter in dispute owes its existence to a federal statute.

The Court has jurisdiction under the Judiciary Act to hear applications for judicial review of decisions by officers of the Commonwealth. Many cases also arise under the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977 (ADJR Act) which provides for judicial review of most administrative decisions made under Commonwealth enactments on grounds relating to the legality, rather than the merits, of the decision. The Court also hears appeals on questions of law from the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. This jurisdiction falls under the Administrative and Constitutional Law and Human Rights National Practice Area (NPA) which also includes complaints about unlawful discrimination no longer being dealt with by the Australian Human Rights Commission and matters concerning the Australian Constitution.

The Court hears taxation matters on appeal from the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. It also exercises a first instance jurisdiction to hear objections to decisions made by the Commissioner of Taxation.

The Court shares first instance jurisdiction with the Supreme Courts of the states and territories in the complex area of intellectual property (copyright, patents, trademarks, designs and circuit layouts). All appeals in these cases, including appeals from the Supreme Courts, are to a full Federal Court.

Another significant part of the Court's jurisdiction derives from the Native Title Act 1993 (NTA). The Court has jurisdiction to hear and determine native title determination applications and to be responsible for their mediation, to hear and determine revised native title determination applications, compensation applications, claim registration applications, applications to remove agreements from the Register of Indigenous Land Use Agreements and applications about the transfer of records. The Court also hears appeals from the NNTT and matters filed under the ADJR Act involving native title.

A further important area of jurisdiction for the Court derives from the Admiralty Act 1988. The Court has concurrent jurisdiction with the Supreme Courts of the states and territories to hear maritime claims under this Act. Ships coming into Australian waters may be arrested for the purpose of providing security for money claimed from ship owners and operators. If security is not provided, a judge may order the sale of the ship to provide funds to pay the claims.

The Court has jurisdiction under the Fair Work Act 2009, Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act 2009 and related industrial legislation, including matters to be determined under the Workplace Relations Act 1996 in accordance with the Fair Work (Transitional Provisions and Consequential Amendments) Act 2009.

The Court's jurisdiction under the Corporations Act 2001 and Australian Securities and Investments Commission Act 2001 covers a diversity of matters ranging from the appointment of provisional liquidators and the winding up of companies, to applications for orders in relation to fundraising, corporate management and misconduct by company officers. The jurisdiction is exercised concurrently with the Supreme Courts of the states and territories.

The Court exercises jurisdiction under the Bankruptcy Act 1966. It has power to make sequestration (bankruptcy) orders against persons who have committed acts of bankruptcy and to grant bankruptcy discharges and annulments. The Court's jurisdiction includes matters arising from the administration of bankrupt estates.

Cases arising under Part IV (restrictive trade practices) and Schedule 2 (the Australian Consumer Law) of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 constitute a significant part of the workload of the Court. These cases often raise important public interest issues involving such matters as mergers, misuse of market power, exclusive dealings or false advertising.

Since late 2009, the Court has also had jurisdiction in relation to indictable offences for serious cartel conduct. This jurisdiction falls under the Federal Crime and Related Proceedings NPA together with summary prosecutions and criminal appeals and other related matters.

The Court has a substantial and diverse appellate jurisdiction. It hears appeals from decisions of single judges of the Court, and from the Federal Circuit Court (FCC) in non-family law matters and from other courts exercising certain federal jurisdiction. In recent years, a significant component of its appellate work has involved appeals from the FCC concerning decisions under the Migration Act 1958.

The Court also exercises general appellate jurisdiction in criminal and civil matters on appeal from the Supreme Court of Norfolk Island.

This summary refers only to some of the principal areas of the Court's work.

October 2017