How does the legal system work in Australia?
- In Australia, laws are made by the government.
- These laws are used by courts and tribunals to make decisions.
- Police officers make sure the laws are obeyed.
- Lawyers can help you with the law and your rights and obligations.
What is a lawyer?
A lawyer is a person with legal training. They may choose to work in different areas of law such as criminal, family or civil law. In Australia, lawyers are also called solicitors or barristers.
When do I need a lawyer?
It is important to speak to a lawyer if you have a legal problem because they can:
- provide you with legal advice
- explain your rights
- help you in court or in a tribunal
- talk to police or other people involved in your legal problem on your behalf.
Which courts can I go to?
There are three different courts that assist with family law disputes — the Family Court of Australia, the Federal Magistrates Court and state magistrates courts.
You should get legal advice if you are not sure which court to use.
When do I go to a state magistrates court?
- This court can hear applications for domestic violence orders, child maintenance orders and orders about children.
- You would use this court to obtain straightforward orders about children where you and your partner agree about the arrangements for your children.
- This court can hear your application more quickly than the Family Court of Australia or Federal Magistrates Court.
- You should also use this court when the nearest Family Court of Australia is located far away.
- If you and your partner can’t agree about arrangements for your children, the magistrates court might transfer your case to the Family Court of Australia or Federal Magistrates Court.
- The person who makes the decisions is a magistrate (called “Your Honour”).
When do I go to the Federal Magistrates Court?
- The Federal Magistrates Court can hear applications about divorce and cases about property and children.
- The Federal Magistrates Court can also hear applications about immigration.
- The person who makes the decisions is a federal magistrate (called “Your Honour”).
When do I go to the Family Court of Australia?
- The Family Court of Australia can make decisions about all types of family law matters.
- The Family Court of Australia hears appeals from the Federal Magistrates Court.
- The Family Court of Australia takes on more complex cases transferred from state and federal magistrates courts.
- This court will try to help parties reach an agreement before having a final trial.
- This court may have registrars and judges (called “Your Honour”) who make decisions.
What do I need to do before I start family law court proceedings?
In most cases you will need to attend a family dispute resolution conference and try to resolve your family law problem before going to court. If you do not reach an agreement, you may be given a certificate you can use to show the court you attended the conference. You should get legal advice about this.
When do I go to the High Court of Australia?
This court is the final appeal court about Australian laws.
When do I go to a tribunal?
A tribunal is an independent body to hear and decide disputes. They can review decisions made by some government departments. There are different tribunals that can help you, for example:
- If you disagree with a decision made by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, you can appeal to the Migration Review Tribunal, Refugee Review Tribunal or Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
- If you disagree with a decision made by Centrelink, you can appeal to the Social Security Appeals Tribunal.
- If you have a dispute on tenancy, building, anti-discrimination, consumer or debt disputes, you can go to the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal or QCAT.
The person who makes decisions in these tribunals is called a “member”.
I need to speak to the police but I can’t speak English. What should I do?
If you need to speak with the police urgently and you don’t have a friend or relative who can help you, you can:
- phone the police on 000 and tell them the language you speak; the police should then organise an interpreter for you
- phone the Translating and Interpreting Service on 13 14 50 and ask for an interpreter to help you contact the police. This is a free and confidential service.
What is Legal Aid Queensland?
Legal Aid Queensland is a government agency that provides free legal help to people who cannot afford to pay for a lawyer. We can help you with:
- legal information
- legal advice
- representation in court.
You can phone Legal Aid Queensland for legal advice and information. This is a free service that will provide you with legal information and advice over the phone or face-to-face.
To apply for representation in a legal matter, you need to complete an application form. Application forms are available from our offices throughout Queensland or from solicitors who do work for Legal Aid Queensland.
We can provide legal advice about:
- domestic violence
- child support
- parenting arrangements for your children
- property settlement
- criminal matters and
- anti-discrimination matters.
Legal Aid Queensland has specialist lawyers who can assist you with legal problems, including the Violence Prevention and Women’s Advocacy team and our family lawyers. We can also refer you to community legal centres or other community services that might be able to help.
For more information, phone our Client Information Service on 1300 65 11 88. If English is your second language, you can contact us through the Translating and Interpreting Service on 13 14 50. You can also visit our website www.legalaid.qld.gov.au