Federal Circuit Court of Australia

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Federal Circuit Court of Australia
Coat of Arms of Australia.svg
Melbourne Federal Court.JPG
The Federal Court Building in Melbourne, a location of the Federal Circuit Court
Dissolved1 September 2021
Appeals to
Appeals fromCertain federal tribunals and other federal bodies, including:
Chief Judge
CurrentlyWill Alstergren QC

The Federal Circuit Court of Australia, formerly known as the Federal Magistrates Court of Australia or the Federal Magistrates Service, was an Australian court with jurisdiction over matters broadly relating to family law and child support, administrative law, admiralty law, bankruptcy, copyright, human rights, industrial law, migration, privacy and trade practices.

The Court was created to deal with the increasing workload of the Federal Court of Australia and the Family Court of Australia, by hearing less complex cases for them and freeing those Courts to deal only with more complex cases. The Federal Circuit Court dealt with approximately 95% of migration and bankruptcy applications filed in the federal courts. Approximately 90% of the Court's workload was in the area of family law. The Court also deals with nearly 80% of all family law matters filed in the federal courts.[1] It is also intended to replace (in part) the federal jurisdiction with which state courts have been invested under the Judiciary Act 1903.

In 2021, the Morrison Government introduced legislation merging the Federal Circuit with the Family Court of Australia to form the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia, effective from 1 September 2021.[2]


The court was established on 23 December 1999 by the Australian Government as the Federal Magistrates Court of Australia, as a result of royal assent of the Federal Magistrates Act 1999 (Cth).[3] The court is now known as the Federal Circuit Court of Australia and the Act as the Federal Circuit Court of Australia Act 1999.[3][4] Its first judicial officers were appointed in 2000; it first applications were filed on 23 June 2000 and the Court's first sittings were conducted on 3 July 2000 in Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne, Newcastle, Parramatta and Townsville.

On 12 April 2013, in recognition of its increased jurisdiction and its role as an intermediate court servicing regional centres as well as capital cities throughout Australia, it was renamed the Federal Circuit Court of Australia and its judicial officers received the title "Judge" instead of "Federal Magistrate".[5]

There are now over 60 judges of the Court. The first Chief Federal Magistrate, Diana Bryant left the court in 2004 when she was appointed Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia, the third person to be appointed that position since the establishment of the Family Court. The current Chief Judge is Will Alstergren, appointed to the role in 2017. The current judges of the Court come from a wide variety of backgrounds, including barristers, solicitors, academic lawyers, as well as legal aid and public service lawyers.

In 2006 the Court was embroiled in controversy when it was revealed that Magistrate Jennifer Rimmer had plagiarised the work of her colleagues when writing decisions.[6]


Bankruptcy, migration and family law comprise the largest components of the Court's work.[7]

Family law[edit]

There has been a progressive shift over the past 10 years in the balance of workload between the Federal Circuit Court and the Family Court of Australia, with the majority of all family law matters and most divorces now heard in the Federal Circuit Court. This has resulted in the Family Court of Australia becoming a smaller court which manages all appeals and deals with the most lengthy and complex family law cases.

The Federal Circuit Court's family law jurisdiction covers:

  • Parenting – an order regarding the child/children of a marriage or de facto relationship that has broken down.
  • Financial – an order relating to the division of property or payment of maintenance following the breakdown of a marriage or eligible de facto relationship.
  • Divorce – all applications for divorce, except orders relating to nullity and validity of marriage and divorce.
  • Child support – certain applications and appeals.
  • Child maintenance – an order for child maintenance in special circumstances.
  • Parentage declarations and testing – an order declaring that a person is a parent of a child/children or to assist in determining the parentage of a child/children.
  • Contravention – an application alleging a breach of a court order.
  • Injunctions – an application for an injunction in a current or pending matter.
  • Location and recovery – an order for information or the ability to publish information about a child/children's location or the return of a child/children to a party.

General federal law[edit]

The Federal Circuit Court shares jurisdiction with the Federal Court of Australia. The largest volume of the court's general federal law work is in bankruptcy applications and migration. The Federal Circuit Court deals with 95 per cent of all migration applications that are filed in the federal courts. In addition, the Court deals with a significant number of industrial law and human rights matters.

The Federal Circuit Court's general federal law jurisdiction covers the following:

Administrative law[edit]

The Court has original jurisdiction under the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977 (Cth). The Court, on remittal from the Federal Court, hears appeals from the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.


  • In personam actions (claims against a specific person or company) such as freight claims and seafarer's wages.
  • In rem actions remitted by the Federal Circuit Court of Australia and state Supreme Courts.


All civil claims and matters under the Bankruptcy Act 1966, except those requiring jury trials. The vast majority of bankruptcy court cases in Australia are heard by The Federal Circuit Court (92% in 2004–5).[7]

Consumer law (Trade practices)[edit]

The Court has civil jurisdiction with respect to claims under the following provisions of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (formerly known as the Trade Practices Act 1974):

  • Section 46 (Misuse of Market Power)
  • Section IVB (Industry Codes)
  • Part XI (Application of the Australian Consumer Law as a law of the Commonwealth), and
  • Schedule 2 (Australian Consumer Law).

The Court can provide injunctive relief and award damages of up to $750 000. The Court also has civil jurisdiction with respect to claims under the National Consumer Credit Protection Act 2009. There is provision in certain proceedings for a litigant to elect that an application for compensation be dealt with as a small claims proceeding.

This jurisdiction includes hearing matters relating to (but not limited to) unfair trade practices, product safety and information matters, consumer protection matters, pyramid selling, and importation and manufacture of defective goods.

Human Rights[edit]

Federal unlawful discrimination matters under the Australian Human Rights Commissions Act 1986 relating to complaints under the:

  • Age Discrimination Act 2004
  • Disability Discrimination Act 1992
  • Racial Discrimination Act 1974, and
  • Sex Discrimination Act 1984.

The Court has concurrent jurisdiction with the Federal Court of Australia to hear and determine complaints of unlawful discrimination based on sex, age, race and disability. Its power to grant relief is wide – it may, for example, grant unlimited damages.

Industrial law[edit]

The court has concurrent jurisdiction with the Federal Court for matters under the:

  • Fair Work Act 2009
  • Fair Work (Transitional Provisions and Consequential Amendments) Act 2009 , and
  • the Fair Work Act 2009 confers small claims jurisdiction on the Court for various matters if the compensation is not more than $20 000.

The Court also has jurisdiction in relation to certain matters under the Independent Contractors Act 2006. This jurisdiction is exercised by the Court's Fair Work Division.

Intellectual property[edit]

  • Copyright – The Court may hear civil claims and matters, under parts V, VAA, IX and Section 248J of the Copyright Act 1968 such as claims for injunctions and damages for breach of copyright.
  • Trade Mark/Design – From 15 April 2013, the Federal Circuit Court will have certain jurisdiction under the Trade Marks Act 1995 and the Designs Act 2003. The jurisdiction is comparable to that exercised by the Federal Court except that it will not be able to hear an appeal from another court.


Reform in 2005 limited first instance jurisdiction to the Federal Circuit Court and the High Court to review administrative decisions made by the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, the Refugee Review Tribunal and the Migration Review Tribunal.[8] The Court does not have jurisdiction to undertake a merits review of these types of decisions.[citation needed]


Enforcing determinations of the Privacy Commissioner and private sector adjudicators under the Privacy Act 1988.

Chief Judges[edit]

The Court has a Chief Judge (previously known as the Chief Federal Magistrate when the Court was called the Federal Magistrates Court).

Only three people have served as Chief Judge or Chief Federal Magistrate. All three have subsequently (or concurrently) held the office of Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia. They are:

List of Federal Circuit Court Judges[edit]

As of October 2020, the judges of the Court were:[10]

Name Location Appointed
Rolf Driver Sydney 31 July 2000
Stewart Brown Adelaide 5 November 2001
Michael Jarrett Brisbane 2 February 2004
Sylvia Emmett AM Sydney 5 July 2004
Grant Riethmuller Melbourne 19 July 2004
Kevin Lapthorn Brisbane 29 August 2005
Kate Hughes Canberra (formerly Melbourne) 30 January 2006
Heather Riley Melbourne 3 July 2006
Philip Burchardt Melbourne 10 July 2006
John O'Sullivan Melbourne 10 July 2006
Antoni Lucev Perth 14 August 2006
Robert Cameron Sydney 3 October 2006
Stephen Coates Brisbane 24 November 2006
Leanne Spelleken Brisbane 11 December 2006
Charlotte Kelly Adelaide 12 March 2007
Janet Terry Newcastle 10 April 2007
Warwick Neville Canberra 2 July 2007
Dale Kemp Sydney 4 July 2007
Paul Howard Brisbane 9 July 2007
Susan Purdon-Sully Brisbane 15 October 2007
Margaret Cassidy Brisbane 5 November 2007
Evelyn Bender Melbourne 15 September 2008
Anne Demack Brisbane 22 September 2008
Terry McGuire Hobart/Launceston 6 October 2008
David Dunkley Parramatta 13 October 2008
Geoffrey Monahan Sydney 3 November 2008
Peter Cole OAM Adelaide 24 November 2008
Josephine Willis AM Cairns 27 January 2009
Leanne Turner Brisbane 7 June 2010
Joe Harman Parramatta 7 June 2010
Matthew Myers AM Parramatta 23 January 2012
Alexandra Harland Melbourne (formerly Darwin) 15 March 2013
Nicholas Manousaridis Sydney 1 July 2013
Joanne Stewart Melbourne 2 September 2013
Salvatore Vasta Brisbane 1 January 2015
Sandy Street Sydney 1 January 2015
Ian Newbrun Parramatta 4 February 2015
Tony Young Darwin 31 July 2015
Steven Middleton Brisbane 9 November 2015
Timothy Heffernan Adelaide 23 November 2015
Elizabeth Boyle Sydney 29 February 2016
Alister McNab Melbourne 18 May 2016
Brana Obradovic Parramatta 30 May 2016
Amanda Tonkin Canberra 1 January 2017
Anthony Kelly Melbourne 6 February 2017
Patrizia Mercuri Melbourne 18 September 2017
Jane Costigan Newcastle 9 October 2017
Will Alstergren (Chief Judge) Melbourne 13 October 2017
Gregory Egan Brisbane 18 December 2017
Christopher Kendall Perth 29 January 2018
Caroline Kirton Melbourne 29 January 2018
Julia Baird Sydney 20 February 2018
Terry Betts Newcastle 30 May 2018
Bruce Smith Sydney 12 June 2018
Karl Blake Melbourne 30 January 2019
Douglas Humphreys OAM Parramatta 11 March 2019
Monica Neville Sydney 11 March 2019
Alice Carter Melbourne 14 March 2019
Anna Boymal Melbourne 18 March 2019
Dillon Morley Sydney 19 March 2019
Penelop Kari Adelaide 25 March 2019
Patrick O'Shannessy Melbourne 18 September 2020
Kylie Beckhouse Sydney 10 December 2020
Christopher Bowrey Townsville 22 March 2021
Colin Campbell Sydney 6 April 2021
Jonathan Davis Melbourne 6 April 2021
Jennifer Howe Melbourne 6 April 2021

Former judges include folk singer turned lawyer and judge, Judy Small, who served on the Court between 2014 and 2020,[11] and Barbara Baker, now Governor of Tasmania, who served on the Court from 2008 to 2021.[12]

Federal Circuit Court judges are assisted by Associates and Deputy Associates, many of whom are qualified lawyers.

The Court sits permanently in each state capital, although in Perth it only hears general federal law matters as the Family Court of Western Australia has sole jurisdiction over family law in that state. The Court also sits permanently in the major regional centres of Launceston, Cairns, Townsville, Parramatta and Newcastle and regularly circuits to a large number of regional cities to hear family law cases. The Court hears some applications and evidence by telephone or video evidence when parties or witnesses live a long way from the Court.

In keeping with the Court's requirement to act as informally as possible, section 3 of the Federal Circuit Court Act, barristers are not required to robe for interim or interlocutory applications and wigs are not worn for any occasion. Barristers are only required to robe for final hearings before the Federal Circuit Court for all judgments, trials and contested hearings in which oral evidence is to be adduce practice direction number 1 of 2010

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "About the Federal Circuit Court". Federal Circuit Court of Australia. 1 July 2016. Retrieved 2 August 2016.
  2. ^ "Media Release - The Courts to receive $100 million in Government funding announced in the 2021-22 Budget". Family Court of Australia. 12 May 2021. Archived from the original on 29 July 2021. Retrieved 29 July 2021.
  3. ^ a b Federal Magistrates Act 1999 (Cth) s 8 Archived 2 April 2008 at the Wayback Machine.
  4. ^ Federal Circuit Court of Australia Act 1999 in ComLaw
  5. ^ "Federal Attorney-General's announcement". Archived from the original on 20 April 2013. Retrieved 19 April 2013.
  6. ^ "Magistrate accused of plagiarism quits". The Sydney Morning Herald. 19 December 2006.
  7. ^ a b "PART THREE: PERFORMANCE" (PDF). Federal Magistrates Court. Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 April 2011. Retrieved 13 April 2011.
  8. ^ O'Brien, Dennis (19 July 2013). REVIEW ON THE MERITS OF MIGRATION AND REFUGEE DECISIONS – REFLECTIONS ON THE OPERATION OF THE MIGRATION REVIEW TRIBUNAL AND REFUGEE REVIEW TRIBUNAL IN AN INTERCONNECTED WORLD (PDF). Australian Institute of Administrative Law National Administrative Law Conference. Editorial Committee of Australian Institute of Administrative Law. Canberra: AustLII. Archived from the original (Reprint) on 14 September 2016. Retrieved 2 August 2016.
  9. ^ Porter, Christian (27 September 2018). "Appointments of Chief Justice and Deputy Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia". Attorney-General of Australia; Minister for Industrial Relations. Commonwealth of Australia. Retrieved 23 June 2019.
  10. ^ "Judges of the Federal Circuit Court". Federal Court of Australia. Retrieved 24 June 2019.
  11. ^ "Farewell for Judge Judith Small, Federal Circuit Court of Australia". Law Institute of Victoria. 21 April 2020.
  12. ^ Bird, Isabel (20 May 2021). "Governor Designate Barbara Baker is a former Tasmanian lawyer and Federal Circuit Court of Australia judge". Launceston Examiner. Australian Community Media. Retrieved 13 June 2021.

External links[edit]