The Supreme Court of Tasmania forms part of a multi-layered court system which incorporates both federal and state jurisdictions.
Under the Australian constitutional system legislative, executive and judicial powers are divided between the States and Commonwealth. As a result there is a demarcation between the types of matters which may be dealt with in state and federal courts. For example:
- Family law issues come within the jurisdiction of the federal parliament and are dealt with in a federal court called the Family Court of Australia (note that before the creation of the Family Court in 1975 family law matters were dealt with in the Supreme Court);
- Disputes arising under federal laws are largely dealt with in the Federal Court of Australia; and
- Offences and disputes governed by state laws will be heard in state courts.
Court systems are hierarchal. In most states of Australia there are three levels of courts:
- Magistrates (or Local) Courts;
- County or District Courts;
- Supreme Courts.
Tasmania has only two levels in its court hierarchy: Magistrates Courts and the Supreme Court. The Magistrates Courts sit at numerous locations throughout the State and deal with:
- civil law cases involving amounts of up to $50,000;
- summary offences (offences for which the defendant does not have the option of trial by jury); and
- preliminary and committal hearings in criminal cases which eventually come before the Supreme Court.
There are also a number of tribunals which deal with specialised matters such as:
- Workers Compensation;
- Land Use;
- Anti-Discrimination; and
- Professional conduct.
At the top of the court/tribunal pyramid sits the Supreme Court. Except in those matters excluded from it by specific legislation, the Supreme Court has unlimited jurisdiction in civil matters under Tasmanian law and exclusive jurisdiction in criminal matters under Tasmanian law. It also has jurisdiction, although not exclusive, to deal with criminal matters and some civil matters arising under federal law.