Created in 1976, the Federal Court of Australia began work on 1 February 1977. The law covered by the Court is all civil matters arising under Australian Federal law plus some additional summary and indictable criminal matters. It sits in all capital cities and can be located elsewhere in Australia when required. The objectives of the court are to decide disputes according to law “promptly, courteously and effectively” according to the interpretation of statutory law and exercising the judicial power of the Commonwealth under the Constitution.
The Court also has a substantial and diverse appeals process. Appeals are heard from decisions of single judges of the Court and from the Federal Circuit Court in non-family law matters.
Cases arising from restrictive trade practices and consumer law make up a significant part of the Court’s workload. These cases often raise important public interest issues involving mergers, misuse of market power, exclusive dealing or false advertising.
The Court also hears applications for judicial review of decisions by officers of the Commonwealth on grounds relating to the legality, rather than the merits, of the decision. Questions of law and taxation matters on appeal from the Administrative Appeals Tribunal are also heard at Federal Court. The court is also open to hearing objections to decisions made by the Commissioner of Taxation.
Another significant part of the Court’s jurisdiction derives from the Native Title Act 1993. The Court can hear and determine native title determination applications and to be responsible for their mediation, to hear and determine revised native title determination applications, compensation applications, as well as claim registration applications, applications to remove agreements from the Register of Indigenous Land Use Agreements and applications about the transfer of records. The Court also hears appeals from the National Native Title Tribunal (NNTT) and matters filed under the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act involving native title.
A Federal Court has concurrent jurisdiction with the Supreme Courts of the States and Territories to hear maritime claims, meaning ships coming into Australian waters may be arrested so that ship owners and operators can have security for money claimed.
The Federal Court shares some areas of the law with the Supreme Courts of the States and Territories in the complex area of intellectual property (copyright, patents, trademarks, designs and circuit layouts). In these cases, all appeals, including appeals from Supreme Courts, are in a full Federal Court.
The Court’s jurisdiction also covers a diversity of matters ranging from the appointment of provisional liquidators and the winding up of companies, to applications for orders in relation to fund-raising, corporate management and misconduct by company officers.