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Management of cases and deciding disputes

The following examines the Court’s jurisdiction, management of cases, workload and use of assisted dispute resolution.

The Court’s jurisdiction

The Court’s jurisdiction is broad, covering almost all civil matters arising under Australian federal law and some summary and indictable criminal matters. It also has jurisdiction to hear and determine any matter arising under the Constitution through the operation of s 39B of the Judiciary Act 1903.

Central to the Court’s civil jurisdiction is s 39B (1A)(c) of the Judiciary Act. This jurisdiction includes cases created by federal statute and extends to matters in which a federal issue is properly raised as part of a claim or of a defence and to matters where the subject matter in dispute owes its existence to a federal statute.

The Court has jurisdiction under the Judiciary Act to hear applications for judicial review of decisions by officers of the Commonwealth. Many cases also arise under the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977 (ADJR Act) which provides for judicial review of most administrative decisions made under Commonwealth enactments on grounds relating to the legality, rather than the merits, of the decision.

The Court also hears appeals on questions of law from the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. This jurisdiction falls under the Administrative and Constitutional Law and Human Rights National Practice Area (NPA), which also includes complaints about unlawful discrimination and matters concerning the Australian Constitution. Figure A5.9.1 in Appendix 5: Workload statistics shows the matters filed in this practice area over the last five years.

In addition to hearing appeals in taxation matters from the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, the Court also exercises a first instance jurisdiction to hear objections to decisions made by the Commissioner of Taxation. Figure A5.9.7 in Appendix 5 (Workload statistics) shows the taxation matters filed over the last five years.

The Court shares first instance jurisdiction with the Supreme Courts of the states and territories in the complex area of intellectual property (copyright, patents, trademarks, designs and circuit layouts). All appeals in these cases, including appeals from the Supreme Courts, are to a Full Court of the Federal Court. Figure A5.9.5 on page 144 shows the intellectual property matters filed over the last five years.

The Court also has jurisdiction under the Native Title Act 1993. The Court has jurisdiction to hear and determine native title determination applications and is responsible for their mediation. It also hears and determines revised native title determination applications, compensation applications, claim registration applications, applications to remove agreements from the Register of Indigenous Land Use Agreements and applications about the transfer of records. In addition, the Court also hears appeals from the National Native Title Tribunal and matters filed under the ADJR Act involving native title. The Court’s native title jurisdiction is discussed on page 29. Figure A5.9.6 on in Appendix 5: Workload statistics shows native title matters filed over the last five years.

A further important area of jurisdiction for the Court derives from the Admiralty Act 1988. The Court has concurrent jurisdiction with the Supreme Courts of the states and territories to hear maritime claims under this Act. Ships coming into Australian waters may be arrested for the purpose of providing security for money claimed from ship owners and operators. If security is not provided, a judge may order the sale of the ship to provide funds to pay the claims. During the reporting year, the Court’s Admiralty Marshals made seven arrests. One ship remained under arrest at the end of the fiscal year, pending sale. See Figure A5.9.2 in Appendix 5 (Workload statistics) on page 143 for the number of Admiralty and Maritime Law matters filed in the past five years.

The Court has jurisdiction under the Fair Work Act 2009, Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act 2009 and related industrial legislation (including matters to be determined under the Workplace Relations Act 1996 in accordance with the Fair Work (Transitional Provisions and Consequential Amendments) Act 2009). Workplace relations and fair work matters filed over the last five years are shown in Figure A5.9.4 in Appendix 5: Workload statistics on page 143.

The Court’s jurisdiction under the Corporations Act 2001 and Australian Securities and Investments Commission Act 2001 covers a diverse range of matters, from the appointment of registered liquidators and the winding up of companies, to applications for orders in relation to fundraising, corporate management and misconduct by company officers. The jurisdiction is exercised concurrently with the Supreme Courts of the states and territories.

The Court exercises jurisdiction under the Bankruptcy Act 1966. It has power to make sequestration (bankruptcy) orders against persons who have committed acts of bankruptcy and to grant bankruptcy discharges and annulments. The Court’s jurisdiction includes matters arising from the administration of bankrupt estates.

Cases arising under Part IV (restrictive trade practices) and Schedule 2 (the Australian Consumer Law) of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 constitute a significant part of the workload of the Court. These cases often raise important public interest issues involving such matters as mergers, misuse of market power, exclusive dealings or false advertising. These areas fall under the Commercial and Corporations NPA. Figure A5.9.3 in Appendix 5: Workload statistics on page 143 provides statistics on this practice area.

Since late 2009, the Court has also had jurisdiction in relation to indictable offences for serious cartel conduct. This jurisdiction falls under the Federal Crime and Related Proceedings NPA together with summary prosecutions and criminal appeals and other related matters.

The Court has a substantial and diverse appellate jurisdiction. It hears appeals from decisions of single judges of the Court and from the Federal Circuit Court in non-family law matters and from other courts exercising certain federal jurisdiction.

In recent years, a significant component of its appellate work has involved appeals from the Federal Circuit Court concerning decisions under the Migration Act 1958. The Court’s migration jurisdiction is discussed on page 29.

The Court also exercises general appellate jurisdiction in criminal and civil matters on appeal from the Supreme Court of Norfolk Island. The Court’s appellate jurisdiction is discussed on page 27.

This summary refers only to some of the principal areas of the Court’s work. Statutes under which the Court exercises jurisdiction, in addition to the jurisdiction vested under the Constitution through s 39B of the Judiciary Act, are listed on the Court’s website at www.fedcourt.gov.au.