Saturday, 24th of February, 2018

The State Courts of Tasmania

The Supreme Court of Tasmania

Tasmania has a two tier court system made up of the Magistrates Court and the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court acts as an appeals court. Other states have a three tier system due to larger population sizes and greater case loads for courts.

The administrative and ceremonial head of the Supreme Court is the Chief Justice. There are five other judges. Judges are appointed by the Governor on the advice of the Executive Council. This Council is comprised of State Ministers, the Premier, and representatives from the legal profession. Judges are addressed in court as ‘Your Honour’, ‘Madam’ or ‘Sir’.

The Supreme Court deals with civil cases above a money limit of $50,000 and criminal cases which are heard by a jury. The Supreme Court also hears appeals from civil and criminal decisions of the Magistrates Court. The Full Court of the Supreme Court (which consists of three Supreme Court judges) hears appeals from decisions of a single judge in the ordinary Supreme Court. Similarly, the Court of Criminal Appeal (also with three judges) hears appeals from decisions of a single trial judge in criminal cases. Decisions of the Full Court and the Criminal Court of Appeal can be appealed to the High Court of Australia, which usually sits in Canberra. It only hears appeals which concern the Constitution or an important point of law.

The Supreme Court has its ‘Principal Registry’ at Salamanca Place in Hobart and ‘District Registries’ in Launceston and Burnie. Judges sit in these centres for trials but appeals involving three judges only take place in Hobart.

Settlement of civil cases by mediation is gaining ground in the Supreme Court, but mediation is not compulsory. The Associate Judge, previous known as ‘the Master’ helps to manage the civil jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.

In the past, civil cases in the Supreme Court may have taken years to come to trial, or settle. It is not unusual for personal injury cases to take seven to eight years to resolve. The Court has an active case management focus, which means it intervenes to move cases on – diverting dispute into alternative methods of dispute resolution in order to confine the issues that will appear before the court for resolution. Conciliation is compulsory in the SC, it is free, and noncompliance will see the case not being listed for hearing.These case management procedures are also used in the Magistrates Court. There are indications that new case management procedures are making the court process quicker, and more accessible.

The Magistrates Court

The Magistrates Court is the ‘workhorse’ of the legal system. The majority of people who have contact with the courts will do so through the Magistrates Court. The Magistrates Court deals with civil cases up to a money limit of $50,000, with unlimited jurisdiction by consent of the parties, and criminal cases which are not heard by a jury. The money limit changes from time to time by proclamation, to reflect the value of the dollar. Plaintiffs often reduce a claim in order to keep the matter in the Magistrates Court, or to keep the matter in the small claims tribunal division of the Magistrates Court.

The Magistrates Court also hears preliminary proceedings, formerly known as ‘committal proceedings’ which test the evidence on serious criminal offences before they go to the Supreme Court. The Youth Division of the Magistrates Court is part of the Magistrates Court though it operates under its own legislation. Magistrates also act as Coroners.

The Magistrates Court takes its name from the magistrates who are its ‘judges’. Magistrates are appointed by public advertisement. The administrative head of the Magistrates Court is the Chief Magistrate. The Chief Magistrate is assisted by the Deputy Chief Magistrate. Each of the three regions of the State has its resident magistrates who also sit in smaller centres. Magistrates are addressed in court as ‘Your Honour’, or ‘Sir’ or ‘Madam’.

An important part of the Magistrates Court is the ‘Small Claims Division’. This part of the Court deals with civil cases with a money limit of up to $5,000. Its purpose is to deal with cases as cheaply and efficiently as possible by cutting down on formal legal procedures and encouraging negotiated settlements. Lawyers can only represent people in the Small Claims Division in very rare instances.

Under new rules, civil cases proceed quickly through the Magistrates Court. All cases go through compulsory mediation with emphasis put on the parties to settle the case or to settle as many issues in the case as possible by means of aggressive case management procedures and cost penalties.

State Tribunals, Commissions and Boards

The State court system has a number of important specialist courts called ‘tribunals’ or ‘commissions’. The three most important are the Workers Compensation Tribunal, the Resource Management and Planning Appeals Tribunal and the Industrial Commission.

Matters that would otherwise be heard by an Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) in other states, are heard in Tasmania in the Magistrates Court. Under the Magistrates Court (Administrative Appeals Division) Act 2001 (Tas), the court hears appeals against administrative decision. For example, the Magistrates Court will hear appeals from people who were refused a gun license or a driving license, on their initial application. If a person is refused a license by an administrator, the Magistrates Court (Administrative Appeal Division) Act provides for appeal through a magistrate. The same applies with tax assessment, closure of public roads, declaration of dangerous dogs – numerous Acts containing powers for administrative decisions will include a right of appeal to a magistrate. Gun licenses, motor vehicle licenses, security licenses, state taxation matters – these are a few examples. If the Act in which the administrative powers are contained do not include an avenue of appeal, the Magistrates Court (Administrative Appeal Division) Act allows for this review.

Administrative appeals are held de novo. This means that the appeal is heard ‘as of new’ – that means that the appeal is a fresh attempt to be granted an administrative right. The magistrate will consider the matter anew, as if standing in the shoes of the original decision maker.

Disclaimer

This does not constitute legal advice and the Tasmanian Law Handbook should not be used as a substitute for legal advice. No responsibility is accepted for any loss, damage or injury, financial or otherwise, suffered by any person acting or relying on information contained in it or omitted from it.