Committed to providing access to justice for all Australians

In 2000 the Federal Magistrates Court of Australia (Federal Magistrates Court) was established as an independent federal court under Chapter III of the Australian Constitution.

In 2013 the Court was re-named the Federal Circuit Court of Australia (the Federal Circuit Court).

With significant growth in workload, judicial numbers and jurisdiction over the years, it is now the nation’s largest federal court that deals with both family law and general federal law matters.

Background

The Court was originally established by the Federal Magistrates Act 1999 (the FM Act) and its jurisdiction at inception was conferred by the Federal Magistrates (Consequential Amendments) Act 1999.

In April 2013 the Federal Magistrates Court of Australia became known as the Federal Circuit Court of Australia.

The name of the Court was changed to more accurately reflect the role of the Court and its accessibility for all court users. The inclusion of ‘circuit’ to the name highlights the prominence of the Court’s circuit work in regional areas and ‘federal’ reflects the broad jurisdiction in both family law and general federal law.

The Federal Circuit Court of Australia Legislation Amendment Act 2012 amended the Federal Magistrates Act 1999 and other legislation to rename the Federal Magistrates Court the ‘Federal Circuit Court of Australia’ and to change the title of the Chief Federal Magistrate to ‘Chief Judge’ and federal magistrates to ‘judge’.

The Federal Circuit Court of Australia (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2012 (‘the Companion Bill’) made consequential amendments to Commonwealth legislation to reflect the name change of the Court and the title of the judicial officers.

The judiciary

When the Court opened in 2000, it started with the original Chief Federal Magistrate, now Chief Justice of the Family Court, the Honourable Diana Bryant AO and nine other judges (then known as federal magistrates).

The Court is currently headed by Chief Judge John Pascoe AO CVO and there are now more than 60 judges who make up membership of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia.

When in Court, judges are referred to as “Your Honour” or “Chief Judge”/”Judge”.

Jurisdiction

The Federal Circuit Court is a court with federal jurisdiction. It operates as a separate court and broadly exercises concurrent jurisdiction with the superior courts, the Federal Court of Australia and the Family Court of Australia. By way of comparison with the State hierarchy of courts, the Federal Circuit Court is similar in status to that of the State District Courts.

High Court of Australia

Federal Court of Australia

Family Court of Australia

Federal Circuit Court of Australia

Facts and figures

  • In the Court’s first full year of operation (2000–01) 36,435 applications were filed. Twelve years later that figure has grown significantly with 92,542 applications filed in the Court in 2011–12.
  • In 2011–12, 83 per cent of all applications (family law and general federal law) were completed within six months and 95 per cent were completed within 12 months
  • In the family law jurisdiction in 2011–12, 84 per cent of matters were completed within six months and 95 per cent were completed within 12 months.
  • In the general federal law jurisdiction in 2011–12, 78 per cent of applications were completed within six months and 94 per cent were completed within 12 months.
  • The Federal Circuit Court circuits to 33 rural and regional locations throughout Australia.

Family law

There has been a progressive shift over the past ten years in the balance of workload between the Federal Circuit Court (formerly the Federal Magistrates Court) and the Family Court of Australia, with the majority of all family law matters and most divorces now heard in the Federal Circuit Court. This has resulted in the Family Court becoming a smaller court which manages all appeals and deals with the most lengthy and complex family law cases.

The Federal Circuit Court’s family law jurisdiction covers:

  • Parenting – an order regarding the child/ren of a marriage or de facto relationship that has broken down.
  • Financial – an order relating to the division of property or payment of maintenance following the breakdown of a marriage or eligible de facto relationship.
  • Divorce – all applications for divorce, except orders relating to nullity and validity of marriage and divorce.
  • Child support – certain applications and appeals.
  • Child maintenance – an order for child maintenance in special circumstances.
  • Parentage declarations and testing – an order declaring that a person is a parent of a child/ren or to assist in determining the parentage of a child/ren.
  • Contravention – an application alleging a breach of a court order.
  • Injunctions – an application for an injunction in a current or pending matter.
  • Location and recovery – an order for information or the ability to publish information about a child/ren’s location or the return of a child/ren to a party.

General federal law

The Federal Circuit Court shares jurisdiction with the Federal Court of Australia. The largest volume of the court’s general federal law work is in bankruptcy applications and migration and it deals with approximately 95 per cent of all migration applications that are filed in the federal courts. In addition, the Court deals with a significant number of industrial law and human rights matters.

The Federal Circuit Court’s general federal law jurisdiction covers:

Administrative law

  • Matters under the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1997.
  • Appeals from the Administrative Appeals Tribunal remitted from the Federal Court of Australia.

Admiralty

  • In personam actions (claims against a specific person or company) such as freight claims, damage claims and seafarers’ wages.
  • In rem actions remitted by the Federal Court of Australia and state Supreme Courts.

Bankruptcy

All civil claims and matters under the Bankruptcy Act 1966, except those requiring jury trials.

Consumer law

The Court has civil jurisdiction with respect to claims under the following provisions of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (formerly the Trade Practices Act 1974):

  • Section 46 (Misuse of Market Power)
  • Section IVB (Industry Codes)
  • Part XI (Application of the Australian Consumer Law as a law of the Commonwealth), and
  • Schedule 2 (Australian Consumer Law).

The Court can provide injunctive relief and award damages up to $750,000.

The Court also has civil jurisdiction with respect to claims under the National Consumer Credit Protection Act 2009.

There is provision in certain proceedings for a litigant to elect that an application for compensation be dealt with as a small claims proceeding.

Human Rights

Federal unlawful discrimination matters under the Australian Human Rights Commissions Act 1986 relating to complaints under the:

  • Age Discrimination Act 2004
  • Disability Discrimination Act 1992 
  • Racial Discrimination Act 1975, and
  • Sex Discrimination Act 1984.

Industrial law

The Court has concurrent jurisdiction with the Federal Court for matters under the:

  • Fair Work Act 2009
  • Fair Work (Transitional Provisions and Consequential Amendments) Act 2009, and
  • Workplace Relations Act 1996 (in so far as it continues to apply).
  • The Fair Work Act 2009 confers small claims jurisdiction on the Court for various matters if the compensation is not more than $20,000.
  • The Court also has jurisdiction in relation to certain matters under the Independent Contractors Act 2006.

This jurisdiction is exercised by the Court’s Fair Work Division.

Intellectual property

Copyright

  • Civil claims and matters under Parts V, VAA, IX and
  • Section 248J of the Copyright Act 1968, such as claims for injunctions and damages for breach of copyright.

Trade Mark/ Design

From 15 April 2013, the Court will have certain jurisdiction under the Trade Marks Act 1995 and the Designs Act 2003. The jurisdiction is comparable to that exercised by the Federal Court except it will not be able to hear an appeal from another court.

Migration

Most first instance judicial reviews of visa-related decisions of the Migration Review Tribunal, Refugee Review Tribunal and the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. The Court does not have jurisdiction to undertake a merits review of these types of decisions.

Privacy

Enforcing determinations of the Privacy Commissioner and private sector adjudicators under the Privacy Act 1988.