The jurisdiction of the Supreme Court falls into two categories:
- Matters in which it exercises original jurisdiction; and
- Matters in which it has an appellate jurisdiction.
Original jurisdiction means that a matter comes before the court for decision for the first time.
Criminal Law Matters
People accused of serious offences, called crimes or indictable offences, are dealt with in the Supreme Court. Preliminary hearings are conducted in the Magistrates Court.
If the defendant pleads guilty it is ordered that he or she appear in the Supreme Court for sentencing by a judge. If the defendant pleads not guilty and there is to be a trial, it is ordered that he or she appear in the Supreme Court for trial, by a jury of twelve people, in a court presided over by a judge. Those found guilty by the jury are then sentenced by the judge.
When the Supreme Court deals with criminal matters it is often referred to as the Criminal Court.
Civil Law Matters
Whilst the Supreme Court has jurisdiction in all civil matters, normally only those matters involving a dispute over a sum in excess of $50,000 are dealt with in this court. These cases are usually tried by a judge alone but, in some cases, a party may choose to be tried by a jury of seven people.
In its appellate jurisdiction the court determines appeals from single judges, from the Magistrates Court and from tribunals, where there is a right of appeal to the Supreme Court. There is a right of appeal to the Supreme Court from the decision of a magistrate and from most tribunals although, in some cases, only on questions of law and not on questions of fact.
Appeals from the decision of a Supreme Court judge and jury are usually heard by a court consisting of three or more Supreme Court judges called the Court of Criminal Appeal. A convicted person may appeal either his/her conviction or the sentence imposed. See s407 of the Criminal Code Act 1924.
Where a matter has been determined by a single judge of the Supreme Court, or a judge and jury, in a civil matter, a party has a right of appeal to a court consisting of three or more Supreme Court Judges. This is called the Full Court of the Supreme Court. See s659 of the Supreme Court Rules 2000.
Appeals from the Court of Criminal Appeal and the Full Court are heard in the High Court of Australia.