The High Court of Australia was established in 1901 by Section 71 of the Constitution and is the highest court in the Australian judicial system. The High Court functions to interpret and apply the law of Australia; to decide cases of special federal significance including challenges to the constitutional validity of laws and to hear appeals, in some instances, from Territory, State and Federal courts.
The seat of the High Court is in Canberra, where it is located in its own building within the Parliamentary Triangle. Within the High Court are three courtrooms, the Justices' chambers, plus the Court's main registry, library, and administrative facilities.
There are offices of the High Court Registry in Sydney and Melbourne, staffed by officers of the High Court. In Perth, Adelaide, Darwin and Brisbane the registry functions are performed on behalf of the High Court by officers of the Federal Court of Australia. In Hobart the officers of the Supreme Court of Tasmania take on the role.
The High Court of Australia deals with cases that come to it on appeal or which begin in the High Court itself. Cases that involve interpretation of the Constitution, or where the Court may be invited to depart from one of its previous decisions, or where the Court considers the principle of law involved to be one of major public importance, are normally determined by a full bench comprising all seven Justices should they be available to sit.
The High Court can also make final determination in cases that involve appeals against the decisions of the Supreme Courts of the States and Territories, of the Federal Court of Australia and of the Family Court of Australia. In these cases the full court must have at least two Justices. In addition there are certain matters that can be heard and determined by a single Justice.
The subject matter of the cases heard by the Court cover the entire range of Australian law. Subjects can include arbitration, contract, company law, copyright, court-martial, criminal law and procedure, tax law, insurance, personal injury, property law, family law, trade practices, and more.
The majority of the Court's work relates to the hearing of appeals against decisions made at other courts. Before an appeal can go ahead, the Court will need to be persuaded, in a preliminary hearing, that there are special reasons to cause the appeal to be heard. This is because there is no automatic right to have an appeal heard by the High Court. The decision of the High Court on appeal is final, no other appeals are allowed, and the decision is binding on all other courts throughout Australia.
Justices will usually prepare a written response for their decisions which are handed down by the Court at a later sitting and are available to the public.