Legal advice for small business owners - Chamberlains Law Firm, Canberra

We all need the assistance of a court at some point in our lives. To ensure that we get the outcome we are looking for, we must take our matter to the correct court which can make the orders we are seeking.

Legal disputes broadly fall into two categories – criminal and civil. Chamberlains specialises in civil dispute resolution and litigation.

Broadly, civil disputes concern money or property. This can includes unpaid bills, problems with property, breach of contract, employment disputes, loan agreements, insolvency and other issues of such a nature.

Court proceedings can assist in achieving a conclusive result in such civil disputes when other forms of dispute resolution have proven ineffective. However, determining which court or tribunal will be able to hear your matter and provide you with the desired outcome is dependent on a number of factors.

Initial factors to consider are:

  • The state/territory in which the dispute arose;
  • The governing laws being federal or state-based;
  • The type of claim; and
  • The amount of money that is being sought in the matter.

State courts which deal with disputes under state legislation; and federal courts which deal with disputes under Commonwealth legislation.

This article will focus on the hierarchy of courts that deal with civil claims in the Australian Capital Territory (‘ACT’), enabling prospective clients to explore their options even prior to seeking legal representation.

ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal

Often referred to as “ACAT”, this tribunal hears disputes to do with disagreements regarding breach of contract, consumer law claims, property damages, tenancy claims, boundary disputes and other disputes that are governed under laws of the ACT.

However, ACAT cannot hear claims that are seeking to recovery any more than $10,000. There are a few exceptions to this, particularly when the matter in question relates to residential tenancy in which case the maximum amount that can be claimed is $25,000.

Magistrates Court

The lowest of the state courts, the Magistrates Court is led by civil officers called magistrates who provide verdicts on minor criminal matters as well as civil claims that deal with amounts up to $250,000.

In the event that the Magistrate comes to the conclusion that a particular matter is too serious or too large to be determined at this lower court, the matter can be transferred to a higher court for a judge to provide a ruling.

Supreme Court

The State Supreme Court is the highest-ranking judicial body in each state/territory in Australia. It hears serious criminal cases and civil matters that involve more than $250,000. Supreme Courts have unlimited jurisdiction over all disputes in the relevant state/territory, including equitable jurisdiction, meaning that they have original jurisdiction (the capacity to hear a matter for the first time) and appellate jurisdiction (the power of a higher court to reconsider the verdict of a lower court). The Supreme Court’s decisions are binding on the Magistrates Court for future matters.

The Supreme Court can hear appeals from the single judges in the Supreme Court, the Magistrates Court and even ACAT. A party may appeal where they believes that the lower court made an error in reaching their ruling, whether it be a mistake in understanding the facts of the case or in applying the correct law.

Federal Courts

The Federal court deals with any infringements of Commonwealth/Federal laws where it hears cases regarding industrial disputes, trade practices, corporations and their activities, bankruptcy and matters regarding international relations including customs and immigration.

Similarly to the states, there are two levels to the Federal Courts which hear smaller and large claims respectively. These are known as the Federal Circuit Court and the Federal Court. There are also some tribunals such as the Fair Work Commission which can hear matter coming under the Fair Work Act 2009.

Like the Supreme Court, The Federal Court also has original as well as appellate jurisdiction where a matter is heard by three or more judges. Judgements by the Federal Court act as binding precedent for all other courts across the country.

Chamberlains Law Firm has run matters in all these courts, as well as interstate with several of our lawyers specialising in particular areas. It is important to know exactly which court can hear your claim and what power they have to make the orders you want. Chamberlains can assist you in evaluating your claim and ensuring you have the best legal professionals to take your claim before the appropriate court.

If you are considering taking your claim to court, please do not hesitate to contact our Litigation and Dispute Resolution team by calling (02) 6215 9100.