A Simple Guide to the Victorian Court System

We hear the term ‘going to court’ on a regular basis, but did you know there are actually several different courts and tribunals in the Victorian system? The role of each court and tribunal is to interpret the law, settle disputes and impose penalties on those that have broken the law. Robert Wood and Associates are the legal experts Melbourne locals turn to for expert legal advice and representation. Here is a brief overview of the different Courts and Tribunals you may come across in Victoria.

The Court Hierarchy

Some courts have more power than others – this is known as the court hierarchy. Each court and tribunal within Victoria’s Court System has jurisdiction or area of law and monetary limits that is heard in that court. Generally, if a person does not agree with the decision that a court makes they can appeal to a higher court.

Magistrates’ Court

This is the first level of the Victorian court system, the Magistrates’ Court deals with most legal disputes. Each case is heard by a judicial officer and there is no jury involved.

Matters usually pertain to:

  • Traffic offences
  • Minor assaults
  • Property damage
  • Offensive behaviour
  • Civil matters
  • Disputes about money or property typically up to the value of $100,000.

Some indictable offences may also be heard and decided by a magistrate if the accused agrees. Typically, these offences include burglary and theft.

Specialised areas of the Magistrates’ Court include:

  • Family Violence Court
  • Drug Court
  • Koori Court

County Court

Located in the centre of Melbourne, the County Court hears more serious civil and criminal matters before a judge and/or jury. Matters may include such things as:

  • Armed robbery
  • Dangerous driving
  • Sex offences
  • Civil disputes involving more than $100,000

Any appeals against a decision made in the Magistrates’ Court will generally go before the County Court. The County Court judge will decide whether to uphold magistrate’s decision or make a different decision.

Supreme Court

Victoria’s highest court, the Supreme Court has two divisions:

  • Trial Division – hears very serious criminal cases such as murder, and deals with large disputes involving monetary claims in excess of $200,000.
  • Court of Appeal – hears appeals about decisions made in the County Court or the Trial Division of the Supreme Court.

Children’s Court

Similar to the Magistrates’ Court, however, it specialises in matters involving children and young people under the age of 18. For a matter to be heard in the Children’s Court the person must have been between the ages of 10 and under 18 at the time of the offence and they must also be under 19 when the charge is filed.

There are two divisions:

  • The Criminal Division – hears all charges except offences resulting in death or attempted murder. These must be heard in an adult court.
  • The Family Division – hears protection applications, breaches of welfare orders, irreconcilable differences applications and applications for permanent care. Applications for family violence and personal safety intervention orders are also held in this division.

Coroners Court

The Coroners Court investigates the causes of unexpected, unnatural or violent deaths as well as fires. The coroner will try to find out why the death happened and they make recommendations to help prevent similar fatalities or fires.

Tribunals

Less formal than courts, tribunals are often a quicker and cheaper way of resolving disputes. The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) deals with a wide range of legal disputes including:

  • Residential tenancy – disputes involving rooming houses, caravan parks and public housing
  • Guardians and administrators
  • Owners’ corporations
  • Building and construction
  • Retail and commercial leases
  • Powers of attorney
  • Equal opportunity, including sexual harassment, vilification or victimisation, discrimination.

Tribunals such as VCAT encourage parties to settle their disputes before the matter goes to a hearing, usually in the form of mediation.

Other Victorian tribunals include the Mental Health Tribunal and the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal (VOCAT). VOCAT is established by legislation to provide financial assistance to victims of violent crime committed in Victoria. For an experienced victim of crime solicitor, Melbourne locals should call Robert Wood and Associates today.

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