In New South Wales, there are four primary levels of court jurisdiction, and cases are distributed between these, depending upon the type and seriousness of the crime that has been committed.
The Local and District Courts hear civil and criminal cases, with the Supreme Court hearing the more serious cases, such as murder. The drug court is a specialised court, and the court of appeals deals with appeal cases. There are also some other tribunals to deal with various
The four levels of court jurisdiction are:
The NSW Local Court handles both civil and criminal cases. This Court deals with summary offences, which may attract a fine, good behaviour bond, community service or imprisonment of up to two years, in its criminal jurisdiction. These summary and minor indictable offences are usually offences like theft, Centrelink fraud and traffic offences.
The Local court also conducts preliminary examinations of cases that may attract a punishment of more than two years imprisonment and may order the accused to be dealt with in the higher courts.
The NSW District Court is the middle court in the state’s legal jurisdiction and has the jurisdiction to try most serious offences, besides murder or treason. Most of the matters heard within a District Court have been referred from the Local Court. A Judge and jury, or a Judge sitting alone may conduct trials within the District Court; however, a judge sitting alone is rare and is usually only reserved for complicated cases that may be too technical for a jury.
The NSW Drug Court is a specialist Court, which takes referrals from Local or District Courts in some NSW areas. The Drug Court is only available to defendants who are dependent upon drugs and who are considered eligible for the purpose of the Court.
The eligibility requirements include such things as a willingness to participate, be likely to be sentenced to full-time imprisonment if convicted in a normal court, be above 18 years of age and be dependent upon the use of prohibited drugs. Likewise, some people may be excluded from availing of the Drug Court if their offence involved violent conduct if they have been charged with a sexual offence, suffering from a mental disorder or another reason that is determined by the referring court.
Drug Courts are a fairly modern concept in Australia and have been included based on success with similar courts overseas. They address the underlying drug problem of the defendant, and based on that, allocate the defendant to appropriate treatment options. This is done with the intention of reducing recidivism.
The Supreme Court, which includes the court of criminal appeal and the common law division (criminal matters division), only hears the most serious criminal matters in NSW. As with the District Court, a Judge and jury, or a Judge sitting alone may conduct trials, the majority of which have been referred to the Supreme Court from the lower Courts, where there has been a question of fact or a question of law. The Supreme Court rarely conducts jury trials for indictable offences unless they are very serious, such as murder.
The Court of Criminal Appeal hears all appeals from the Supreme Court, District Courts and some Tribunals. The appeal process involves only looking at the disputed point, or error, of law, and not at the entire case. Three to five Judges, but no jury, will hear the appeal and base their decision on the evidence, as well as the arguments of both the Defence and the Prosecution. The Court may either dismiss the appeal – which means there will be no change, or allow the appeal and make a new decision on the case, or order a retrial.