The Magistrates Court: General Facts
The Magistrates Court is part of the third - or judicial arm - of government. The other arms are the legislature (Parliament) and the executive.
It is the duty of the Courts to do justice according to law. As such, the Courts are indispensable in upholding the rule of law by which individuals, companies and governments are subject to the law.
The Magistrates Court of Tasmania consists of:
The Chief Magistrate, the Deputy Chief Magistrate, and magistrates who are formally appointed by the Governor.
There are 14 magistrates (including the Chief and Deputy Chief Magistrates).
All magistrates exercise a state-wide jurisdiction, although 8 are based in Hobart, 3 are based in Launceston, 2 in Devonport, and 1 in Burnie.
Magistrates also sit in 10 country courts on a regular circuit basis.
By virtue of their office, magistrates are also Justices of the Peace and Coroners.
Magistrates are legal practitioners who have at least 5 years experience as a Lawyer.
The Magistrates Court of Tasmania operates in various specialised Divisions. At present, they are:
In terms of volume, most of the Courts work is discharged in Courts of Petty Sessions which hear and determine a broad range of criminal causes in both the State and Federal jurisdictions.
In addition, some magistrates sit as chairpersons of numerous specialised tribunals, such as the Anti-Discrimination Tribunal.
Further, magistrates exercise jurisdiction under child protection legislation.
The Court utilises technology in discharging its duty to dispense justice according to law. For example, administrative, research and communications functions are highly computerised, nearly all court proceedings are audio recorded and, the Courts four registries have installed video conferencing facilities in Court rooms.
The Court employs approximately 70 administrative staff who are based in the Courts 4 permanent registries (that is, Hobart, Launceston, Devonport and Burnie).
The Magistrates Court also utilises the services of specially trained and approved lay Justices of the Peace who conduct out-of-hours courts and adjudicate some traffic offences.
Appeals from the Magistrates Court are usually heard in the Supreme Court.
Magistrates sitting in Courts of Petty Sessions hear and determine simple (or summary) offences, crimes triable summarily under State and Commonwealth legislation, breaches of duty and applications under various State and Commonwealth statutes. Further, they exercise a wide range of appellate, review functions and licensing functions.
The most common offences that are heard and determined in Courts of Petty Sessions are drink driving offences, traffic offences, burglaries and stealing, assaults and drug offences.
In the most serious criminal cases, for example, murder and manslaughter, magistrates may hold preliminary (or committal) hearings. Such hearings may be used to decide whether there is sufficient evidence to send an accused person to the Supreme Court for trial.
'Intake' courts consist principally of persons who have been charged with an offence and who are appearing in Court for the first time in respect of that charge.
'Adjournment Courts' are held by a Court Officer, who is not a magistrate, for the purpose of bailing defendants who are entitled to adjournments and who seek them.
On 30 March, 1998, the Civil Division of the Magistrates Court commenced with the proclamation of the Magistrates Court (Civil Division) Act 1992.
The Magistrates Court (Civil Division) replaced the Courts of Requests which were established under the Local Courts Act 1896.
The Rules of Court made under the 1992 Act created a new environment of civil litigation that is designed to encourage the delivery of civil dispute resolution services which are just, affordable and efficient.
The jurisdiction of the Magistrates Court in civil matters is $50,000, or an unlimited amount if the parties consent. Also, the Civil Division is able to exercise an equitable jurisdiction. For example, it is able to hear and determine claims for specific performance of contracts for the sale of property. Similarly, the Court is able to grant an injunction pending the grant of any principal relief.
Previously, the pace of litigation was left entirely to the parties. Now the Court becomes involved at an early stage. While solicitors have responsibility for pursuing and protecting their clients interests effectively, the Court has a duty to manage the work through the Court efficiently.
The new approach can be described as solicitor driven, court managed.
Case management by the Court may begin with a Directions Hearing held before a magistrate within 6-8 weeks of a Defence being filed. The parties are required to attend the hearing in person together with their solicitors to assist the Court to:
A Conciliation Conference may be held to explore settlement. Attendance at the conference is compulsory and failure to attend may mean a judgement being entered against that party. Such arrangements are a facet of ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution).
If settlement cannot be achieved at the Conciliation Conference, the claim is listed for hearing.
Statistics indicate that only 3%-5% of defended cases proceed to a trial; the vast majority are resolved during the earlier stages.
In addition, the Rules provide new methods for presenting evidence to the Court. These procedures are designed to reduce the time and cost of proceedings. For example, parties are able to present evidence by way of affidavit in certain circumstances.
Court fees and solicitors costs scales reflect and reinforce the intentions of the Rules. Both scales reflect the principle that the fees and costs must be kept in proper proportion to the amount in dispute in the litigation.
The solicitors costs scales have been designed to provide a fair remuneration for legal practitioners. The scales are weighted in favour of settlements at an early stage.
The Rules also make provision for "cost penalties" which are intended to encourage the parties and their advisers to make realistic assessments of their prospects of success at an early stage. Parties who behave unreasonably are likely to be penalised.
The Court exercises jurisdiction in respect of offending youths pursuant to the Youth Justice Act 1997 which commenced on the 1st February 2000.
A ' youth ' is a person who has not attained the age of 18 years at the date of the commission of the offence.
The jurisdiction is exercised so as to have proper regard to the following principles:
Effect is to be given to the following principles so far as the circumstances of the individual case allow:
The Court has broad powers to make orders that include a reprimand, fine, probation order and detention in an institution.
Coroners investigate and hold inquests into certain deaths, fires and explosions.
This jurisdiction is described in greater detail in the Courts publication entitled The Coronial System.
Teachers who wish to arrange visits by groups of students to the Magistrates Court of Tasmania please Click Here to use the contact details page.
To assist the Courts operations, it would be appreciated if schools could, when contacting the Court, advise the number of students attending, the arrival time and expected departure time.
The Magistrates Court of Tasmania has produced a video presentation that describes the role and work of the Court.
It is particularly suitable for secondary school students.
The video covers the jurisdictions of the court, shows the courts in daily operation, interviews the Deputy Chief Magistrate in relation to the qualifications required to be a Magistrate, matters heard and determined by Magistrates and the principles of sentencing.
Includes reference to the:
The video was scripted with the assistance of officers of the Education Department in an effort to ensure the material was suitable for legal studies students in Tasmania.
The VHS formatted Video has a running time of 19 Minutes.
Copies are available on loan from Magistrates courts statewide for a refundable Deposit of $20.00 or can be purchased for $20.00 plus GST.
Magistrates and Court officers are prepared to address school groups regarding matters such as the Courts jurisdiction and powers, procedures and sentencing.
Teachers who are interested in utilising this service should contact the appropriate Court officers.
The Magistrates Court is willing to assist teachers who wish to organise the holding of Mock Courts either at schools or at the Magistrates Court. Teachers should contact the appropriate Court officers.