Supreme Court of Western Australia

Court System in Western Australia

Courts and Tribunals operate in a hierarchal system. This means that a court or tribunal is bound by any decisions of a higher court or tribunal.

In Western Australia, the hierarchy moves upwards from the Magistrates Court to the District Court and then to the Supreme Court. To go above the Supreme Court, a case must go to the High Court of Australia, the ultimate court from which there is no appeal. Appeals from this court may only proceed to the High Court if the High Court grants special leave to appeal. Decisions of the High Court of Australia are binding on all Australian courts.

Parliament enacts laws, known as Acts, statutes or legislation. The courts' role is to interpret and apply the laws that Parliament has enacted. If there is no statute which covers a particular issue, then the law is derived from decisions made by courts. This body of decisions is called the "common law".

Decisions of courts such as the High Court of Australia, the Federal Court, the Supreme Courts of other states and territories and our own Supreme Court all form part of the common law. In deciding what the law is or what it should be where there is no legislation and no higher decision, state courts will also have regard to decisions of courts in common law countries overseas, particularly England and Wales, Canada, the United States and New Zealand.

The High Court of Australia is the highest court in the Australian judicial system. The functions of the High Court are to interpret and apply the law of Australia; to decide cases of special federal significance including challenges to the constitutional validity of laws and to hear appeals, by special leave, from Federal, State and Territory courts.

The Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia was established by the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia Act 2021, bringing together the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia.

The Court comprises two divisions.  Division 1 is a continuation of the Family Court of Australia and deals only with family law matters including appeals.  Division 2 is a continuation of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia and deals with family law, migration and other general federal law matters. 

The Court has a registry in Perth for general federal matters only.

The Family Court of Western Australia is vested with State and Federal jurisdiction in matters of family law and deals with divorce, property of a marriage or de facto relationship, matters relating to children, maintenance and adoptions.

Appeals in the Federal jurisdiction of the Family Court of Western Australia are to the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia, and appeals in the non-Federal jurisdiction are to the Court of Appeal (Supreme Court) or to a single judge of the Supreme Court where the Chief Justice considers it appropriate.

The District Court of Western Australia is an intermediate trial court placing it between the Magistrates Court and the Supreme Court in the Western Australian courts hierarchy. The District Court deals with serious criminal offences including serious assaults, sexual assaults, serious fraud and commercial theft, burglary and drug offences. The District Court also determines civil claims up to $750,000 and has unlimited jurisdiction in claims for damages for personal injury. The District Court hears appeals from magistrates in civil actions.

The Magistrates Court deals with both civil and criminal matters. All criminal proceedings against adults begin in this jurisdiction. Magistrates deal with the majority of criminal matters summarily (which means that minor offences can be tried without a jury). The Magistrates Court deals with civil matters involving claims up to $75,000.  The Court also has a minor cases procedure which is less formal than the general procedure. The minor cases jurisdictional limit is $10,000.

Within the Magistrates Court there are specialist courts such as Drug Courts and specialist lists such as the Family Violence Lists.

The Drug Court is available only to offenders involved in drug-related crime. It aims to direct eligible offenders with drug misuse problems into treatment and supervision programs to break the cycle of substance misuse and criminal behaviour.

Family Violence Lists involve family violence matters being placed in one court list before a Magistrate. There is a focus on the safety of victims and addressing the causal factors of an offender's violent behaviour. Family Violence Lists aim to break the cycle of family violence by providing the option of programs to address the offender's violent behaviour before sentencing.

The State Administrative Tribunal is established under the State Administrative Act 2004. It is not a court but an independent body consisting of judicial members, legal members and ordinary members that makes and reviews a wide range of administrative decisions. Some of areas of jurisdiction include human rights, vocational regulation, town planning, resource development and commercial and civil disputes. The Tribunal receive its power to hear matters from more than 150 pieces of enabling legislation.

The Children's Court of Western Australia has jurisdiction in respect of offences allegedly committed by children (aged 10 to 17 years) and care & protection matters.

The Coroner's Court has jurisdiction to enquire when a person dies apparently from non-natural causes or where the cause of death is not known. The Coroner must establish the manner in which the death arose, the cause of death, the particulars needed to register the death and the identity of the deceased.

The Warden's Court is constituted under the Mining Act 1978 (WA) and its jurisdiction extends throughout Western Australia.

Last updated: 24-Mar-2022

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