The Local Court has a number of different jurisdictions. This means it handles a number of different areas of work. All jurisdictions are created by an Act of Parliament. Judges of the Local Court are also Judges in the Work Health Court and the Youth Justice Court.
Local Court (Criminal Jurisdiction)
A matter is a criminal matter when a person is charged with an offence. In the majority of cases a charge is brought against the person by the State, and a penalty can be imposed if the person is found guilty of the charge. These charges are usually brought by the Police on behalf of the State – in our case, on behalf of the Northern Territory of Australia and sometimes for Federal offences, on behalf of the Commonwealth of Australia.
Criminal offences are divided into less serious offences known as summary offences and more serious offences known as indictable offences. Summary offences are dealt with by the Local Court from the beginning to the end. Some less serious indictable offences can also be dealt with by the Local Court from the beginning to the end, but if they are more serious then they have to be sent to the Supreme Court.
Charges for these more serious indictable offences are still started in the Local Court where a judge assesses the evidence to see if there is enough to send the person to the Supreme Court for a full trial before a jury. If there is not enough evidence then the charge can be dismissed by the judge in the Local Court. This filtering process is known as a “Preliminary Examination”.
There are no juries in Local Court matters. The Local Court Judge acts as both judge and jury, hearing and deciding on the evidence and, if the person is found guilty, going on to sentence that person by imposing a penalty.
A person who is charged with a criminal offence can be brought to court in one of three different ways.
For less serious offences police can give the person a Notice to Appear at court on a specified day at a specified time.
In other cases police might send out a summons at a later time. That summons must be served on the person and it sets out a time and date for going to court.
Where a person is actually arrested and charged with an offence then they will stay in prison until the case is finished unless they are first given bail. The police can give bail but if they don’t do that then the person must be brought before the Local Court without delay, and the Court will decide whether the person can have bail. Bail can be given subject to all sorts of conditions, which the Court decides and orders.
Because criminal charges can lead to serious penalties, including being sent to prison, a person facing charges should always get legal advice. For more information on lawyers see Legal Assistance.
A penalty for an offence can involve a fine, a community work order, a bond sometimes with conditions, a loss of an entitlement such as being disqualified from driving, or a prison sentence.
If a person pleads guilty to a criminal charge before the Local Court then everything is likely to be finished within a few days or weeks.
If a person defends a criminal charge before the Local Court and it goes before a judge for a hearing then on average it will take two to four months to be finished.
You can appeal against your guilty verdict, and/or the harshness of your sentence. Prosecutors can also appeal against your case if they think your sentence is too lenient (doesn’t show how serious your offending was).
You will need to apply to the Supreme Court within 28 days of the date of your sentence to have your appeal considered by the court. For appeal forms see Forms, which will need to be lodged at a court registry. For addresses and contact details of the Northern Territory Registries see Contact Us.
If your appeal relates to a criminal matter a representative for the Director of Public Prosecutions will appear in the place of the Summary Prosecutor from the Local Court.
During an appeal, the Supreme Court will not rehear your case. They will concentrate on whether a mistake happened in the original hearing or trial.
They can also review your sentence or conviction to see it if it is too harsh or too lenient.
Local Court (Civil Jurisdiction)
The Local Court in its civil jurisdiction deals with legal claims by one person or legal entity against another person or legal entity. This is what is meant by one person “suing” another person.
Some examples of these legal claims are:
- Debt recovery
- Recovery or replacement of property
- Payment for work done and/or materials supplied
- Compensation for damage to property
- Compensation for personal injury
- Compensation for breach of contract
- Compensation under consumer protection laws.
Where the value of these sorts of claims is between $25,000 and $250,000 then the claims can be brought in the Local Court.
Where the value of these claims is less than $25,000 they cannot be brought in the Local Court – they must be brought in the Northern Territory Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NTCAT).
Where the value of these claims is more than $250,000 they must be brought in the Supreme Court.
The civil jurisdiction of the Local Court also includes:
- Compensation for defamation
- Injunctions to prevent someone from doing something
- Enforcement of contracts
- Enforcement of rights under other laws
- Claims under the Commonwealth Fair Work Act.
These sorts of claims must be brought in the Local Court even if their value is under $25,000. If their value is more than $250,000 they must still be brought in the Supreme Court.
Finally, the civil jurisdiction of the Local Court includes:
- Appeals from or reviews of decisions of government bodies where a law specifies the Local Court
- Applications for restraining orders for domestic violence or personal violence.
- Adoption of children
These matters are handled by the Local Court only.
Appeals and domestic/personal violence applications and adoption applications can be completed within days or weeks from when they are first started. Other civil proceedings will take longer if they are defended – usually from four to eight months.
A party can appeal to the Supreme Court from a decision of the Local Court in a civil matter. The appeal can only be on a legal question – a party cannot appeal from a finding of fact made by the Local Court. Parties must wait until the Local Court has completely finished dealing with the civil matter before they can appeal on any legal question.
A person can appear personally without a lawyer in a Local Court civil matter. However, all legal proceedings can be complex and costs orders for large amounts can be made against the person who loses. It is recommended that parties instruct lawyers to represent them in civil proceedings to protect their interests.
Youth Justice Court
In the Northern Territory, children under the age of 18 years of age attend a different type of court. This is called the Youth Justice Court, which gets its power from the Youth Justice Act. This Act sets out the principles for dealing with youth in court.
YOUTH JUSTICE ACT - SECTION 4
The following are general principles that must be taken into account in the administration of this Act:
- (a) if a youth commits an offence, he or she must be held accountable and encouraged to accept responsibility for the behaviour;
- (b) the youth should be dealt with in a way that acknowledges his or her needs and will provide him or her with the opportunity to develop in socially responsible ways;
- (c) a youth should only be kept in custody for an offence (whether on arrest, in remand or under sentence) as a last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time;
- (d) a youth must be dealt with in the criminal law system in a manner consistent with his or her age and maturity and have the same rights and protection before the law as would an adult in similar circumstances;
- (e) a youth should be made aware of his or her obligations under the law and of the consequences of contravening the law;
- (f) a youth who commits an offence should be dealt with in a way that allows him or her to be re-integrated into the community;
- (g) a balanced approach must be taken between the needs of the youth, the rights of any victim of the youth's offence and the interests of the community;
- (h) family relationships between a youth and members of his or her family should, where appropriate, be preserved and strengthened;
- (i) a youth should not be withdrawn unnecessarily from his or her family environment and there should be no unnecessary interruption of a youth's education or employment;
- (j) a youth's sense of racial, ethnic or cultural identity should be acknowledged and he or she should have the opportunity to maintain it;
- (k) a victim of an offence committed by a youth should be given the opportunity to participate in the process of dealing with the youth for the offence;
- (l) a responsible adult in respect of a youth should be encouraged to fulfil his or her responsibility for the care and supervision of the youth;
- (m) a decision affecting a youth should, as far as practicable, be made and implemented within a time frame appropriate to the youth's sense of time;
- (n) punishment of a youth must be designed to give him or her an opportunity to develop a sense of social responsibility and otherwise to develop in beneficial and socially acceptable ways;
- (o) if practicable, an Aboriginal youth should be dealt with in a way that involves the youth's community;
- (p) programs and services established under this Act for youth should:
- (i) be culturally appropriate; and
- (ii) promote their health and self-respect; and
- (iii) foster their sense of responsibility; and
- (iv) encourage attitudes and the development of skills that will help them to develop their potential as members of society;
- (q) unless the public interest requires otherwise, criminal proceedings should not be instituted or continued against a youth if there are alternative means of dealing with the matter;
- (r) as far as practicable, proceedings in relation to youth offenders must be conducted separately from proceedings in relation to adult offenders.
Young people come to Youth Justice Court for matters that are too serious for police to deal with in the community or through diversion. If a matter is very serious it will go on to be dealt with by the Supreme Court.
Care and Protection
Young people also come to court for Care and Protection matters under the Care and Protection of Children Act. Section 4 of this act sets out the Objects of Care and Protection:
- (a) to promote the wellbeing of children, including:
- (i) to protect children from harm and exploitation; and
- (ii) to maximise the opportunities for children to realise their full potential; and
- (b) to assist families to achieve the object in paragraph (a); and
- (c) to ensure anyone having responsibilities for children has regard to the objects in paragraphs (a) and (b) in fulfilling those responsibilities.
Young people may also need to come to court as a witness. If you have a summons to appear as a witness, please check in with a court officer when you arrive at court so they can direct you to where you need to go. It is a good idea to bring a jumper and food with you to court as you may have a long wait before your evidence is heard.
Youth courts are less formal than adult courts, for example the Judge will call the young person by their first name. But it is still important to be polite and respectful to the Judge.
At the court house there will be lawyers and other services that can help a young person through the court process. A young person can also pay a lawyer and bring them to court with them.
It is important that a responsible adult accompanies any young person that comes to court; this might be a parent, aunt, uncle, grandmother, caregiver or a sibling who is over 18. As long as it is an adult who exercises parental responsibility over the young person.
After arriving at the court house and checking in with the court staff, the young person and their responsible adult will need to speak to their lawyer or go into court to answer their summons. It is important not to leave the court house until you have been seen by the Judge, and your matter has been heard.
Matters involving children do not have names published on court lists, so only the people involved in a matter should know when the court matter is listed. Similarly, most youth matters are closed courts, so only the people involved in the matter will be allowed in the court room.
Inside the courtroom should be the young person, their responsible adult, the Judge, the young person’s lawyer, the prosecutor (who may be a police officer or a lawyer) and a court officer.
Often a matter needs to come back to court a number of times before it can be finished. If you need to come back to court the Judge will tell you your next court date and time. The court staff or your lawyer will also remind you of this date and time. You will also have any rules you need to follow between now and the next date explained to you by the court staff, as well as your lawyer.
If you have any questions about any rules, dates or times, you can ask these people to explain because it is important you understand. If you are unsure about any information you heard please contact the court.
Work Health Court
The Work Health Court is a separate court from the Local Court but its judges are also the Local Court Judges.
The Work Health Court can deal with workplace safety matters under the Work Health and Safety (National Uniform Legislation) Act, but only if they involve civil issues. Criminal matters under this Act still come before the Local Court in its criminal jurisdiction.
However, the Work Health Court mainly deals with workers’ compensation matters under the NT Return to Work Act.
The Work Health Court deals with all workers’ compensation matters no matter what their value – there is no upper or lower dollar value.
Where a workers’ compensation claim is disputed before the Work Health Court there will be anything from two to five or six appearances in front of a registrar or a judge to manage the claim before the final hearing. The whole process from filing the first document with the Court to the end of a final hearing can take from as little as eight months up to as long as eighteen months.
A party can appeal a decision of the Work Health Court to the Supreme Court but only at the very end of the proceeding, and only on a question of law. There is no appeal from a decision on facts made by the Work Health Court.
A person can appear personally without a lawyer before the Work Health Court. However, these proceedings are very complex and costs orders for large amounts can be made against the person who loses. It is highly recommended that parties instruct lawyers who are experienced in Work Health matters to represent them in proceedings before the Work Health Court to protect their interests.
The majority of family law matters, such as applications for divorce, are dealt with by the Family Court of Australia or the Federal Circuit Court of Australia.
The Northern Territory Local Court has a limited jurisdiction to hear family law matters. The Local Court can only hear the following family law matters:
- Family law property disputes where the value of the property is less than $20,000, unless all parties consent to the Local Court hearing the matter where the property has a value greater than $20,000;
- Parenting matters where all parties consent to the Local Court exercising family law jurisdiction.
If the consent of all of the parties is not obtained, the Local Court must transfer the matter to another Court, such as the Family Court of Australia or the Federal Circuit Court of Australia. In such circumstances, the Local Court can only make interim (temporary) orders pending the transfer.
The forms used in the Local Court for family law matters are the same forms used in the Family Court of Australia. The forms can be located on the Family Court of Australia forms webpage.
The filing fees for commencing family law proceedings and fees for the provision of court services are the same as the Family Court of Australia. The current family law fees can be located on the Family Court of Australia fees webpage.
For more information about forms, fees and family law publications, please contact the National Enquiry Centre on 1300 352 000 or the websites for the Family Court of Australia or the Federal Circuit Court of Australia.
Further information about family law can be found at the LawInfo NT website.
Court staff cannot provide legal advice. Below are some places where you may seek legal assistance for family law related matters:
- NT Legal Aid Commission (Ph 1800 019 343)
- Top End Women’s Legal Service (Ph 1800 234 441)
- North Australian Aboriginal Family Legal Service (Ph Darwin 8923 8200 Katherine 8972 3200)
- Law Society NT - first interview scheme (Ph 8981 5104)
For further information about separation, who can help and alternatives to going to court, contact the Family Relationship Centre.
If you are currently experiencing or are at risk from domestic or family violence, please see our Domestic Violence page.