Australian Criminal Justice System

Kurnai Legal Practice specializes in Criminal Law. The Criminal Justice System is a system of laws and rulings which protect community members and their property. It determines which events causing injury or offence to community members, are criminal. Criminal offenders may be punished through the law by fines, imprisonment and/or community service. To learn more, please interact with our interactive illustration (Guide Only) below:

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(03) 5133 6433

Kurnai Legal Practice Head Office

17-19 George Street

Morwell, VIC 3840


*Federal Courts

*State/Example Victorian Court 

Magistrate Specialist Divisions

*Illustration Basic Guide Only (for common creative and education purposes)



High Court

The High Court is the highest court in the Australian judicial system. It was established in 1901 by Section 71 of the Constitution. The functions of the High Court are 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, by special leave, from Federal, State and Territory courts.

Family Court

The Family Court of Australia, through its specialist judges and staff, assists Australians to resolve their most complex legal family disputes. 

The Family Court is a superior court of record established by Parliament in 1975 under Chapter 3 of the Constitution and deals with more complex matters. These may include:

  • Parenting cases including those that involve a child welfare agency and/or allegations of sexual abuse or serious physical abuse of a child (Magellan cases), family violence and/or mental health issues with other complexities, multiple parties, complex cases where orders sought having the effect of preventing a parent from communicating with or spending time with a child, multiple expert witnesses, complex questions of law and/or special jurisdictional issues, international child abduction under the Hague Convention, special medical procedures and international relocation.

  • Financial cases that involve multiple parties, valuation of complex interests in trusts or corporate structures, including minority interests, multiple expert witnesses, complex questions of law and/or jurisdictional issues (including accrued jurisdiction) or complex issues concerning superannuation (such as complex valuations of defined benefit superannuation schemes).


Federal Circuit Court

(Formerly known  as Federal Magistrate Court) 

The Federal Court of Australia is an Australian superior court of record which has jurisdiction to deal with most civil disputes governed by federal law (with the exception of family law matters), along with some summary (less serious) criminal matters. Cases are heard at first instance by single Judges.

Federal Magistrates Court

The court was established on 23 December 1999 by the Australian Government as the Federal Magistrates Court of Australia, as a result of royal assent of the Federal Magistrates Act 1999 (Cth).[2] The court is now known as the Federal Circuit Court of Australia and the Act as the Federal Circuit Court of Australia Act 1999.


Court Of Appeal

The Court of Appeal hears appeals from criminal and civil cases decided in the County Court or Supreme Court Trial Division, and some appeals from the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. Most appeals require permission from the Court of Appeal before they can be heard. This is called ‘leave to appeal ’.There are two types of appeals the Court of Appeal hears, these are:

  • Criminal appeals (Appeals in relation to criminal trial, conviction or sentence).

  • Civil appeals (Appeals in relation to civil decisions made by the Victorian Lower Courts).

Supreme Court

The supreme court of Victoria is the highest level in Victoria and is the one which mainly deals with some of the serious cases of crime. It also deals with complex cases in the civil division.  This court has two main divisions:

  • Trial Division -this is the court which hears only very serious kind of criminal matters such as murder, attempted treason and murder and civil cases related to major issues of money or complex legal matters.

  • Court of Appeal -this is the court which hears appeals from the trial division of the Supreme Court and other Victorian courts and tribunals.

County Court 

This is the court which sits in the middle of the hierarchy of courts in the state and comes above the magistrate court and below the Supreme Court. This court hears criminal, civil and criminal appeal matters. It also hears more serious criminal cases than the magistrate’s courts like drugs, robbery, sex offences and dangerous driving etc.

Magistrate Court 

This is the court which is headed by chief magistrate but is the lowest court in the Victorian hierarchy. This court handles both civil and criminal matters. There are no juries in the magistrates court where each case is determined by a single magistrate.

Magistrates Specialists Divisions 

Koori Court 

The Koori Court has been developed to reflect cultural issues and operate in a more informal way.

You must choose to have your case heard in the Koori Court.

Family Violence Division 

The Family Violence Court Division is available at the Ballarat, Heidelberg and Shepparton Magistrates' Courts and: provides easy access to the court and promotes the safety of people affected by violence; increases the accountability of people who have used violence against family members, encouraging them to change behaviour; increases the protection of children exposed to family violence.

Sexual Offences List 

The Sexual Offences List manages cases involving sexual offences in the County Court.

For the purpose of the Sexual Offences List, a sexual offence is defined in section 3 of the Criminal Procedure Act 2009.

The primary function of the Sexual Offences List Court is pre-trial management of all matters committed from the Magistrates' Court after an accused pleads not guilty to a sexual offence. All matters are managed by the Sexual Offences List judges following the committal hearing through to trial. Common pre-trial management issues include funding, trial duration, resolution prospects and filing of documentation.

Other functions of the Sexual Offences List are consent bail variations, applications to adjourn pleas by consent, filing of indictments, filing of notices of discontinuance, and other applications by consent as required.

Assessment & Referral Court List 

The Assessment and Referral Court (ARC) aims to help people address underlying factors that contribute to their offending behaviours.

A referral must be made before a matter can be heard in the ARC.  

An assessment by an ARC case manager is also required to ensure the accused person meets the eligibility criteria.

The sentencing options in ARC are generally the same as matters heard in the mainstream court.

This includes the power to send someone to prison.

Drug Court 

The purpose of Drug Court is to impose and administer an order called a Drug Treatment Order (DTO).

A DTO consists of two parts:

1) Custodial: sentence of imprisonment – not exceeding two years – to be served in the community to allow the participant to receive drug and / or alcohol treatment.  2) Treatment and Supervision: aims to address the participant's drug and / or alcohol dependency.

Neighborhood Justice Centre 

The Neighbourhood Justice Centre’s (NJC) court is multijurisdictional, that is, it is the venue for two courts.

Magistrates Court (hears criminal, and family violence/personal safety matters)

Children’s Court (criminal division) Its multijurisdictional status also includes two tribunals, which are:

Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal

Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal

The NJC’s Magistrates’ Court hears most summary criminal offences, and family violence and personal safety matters.




Coroner’s Court

This is the court which is responsible for investigating on reported deaths as well as fires. A coroner however cannot make findings as to criminal, innocence and guilt liability.

Children’s Court

This is the court which handles criminal offences and welfare matters related to children and young people who are under the age of 18. It has two main divisions which are family division and criminal division.