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The Judiciary

Australian judges and magistrates decide on cases brought before the court by interpreting and applying the law. The law applied consists of the Commonwealth and State Constitutions, legislation enacted by Commonwealth, State and Territory Parliaments, regulations made by the Commonwealth, State and Territory Executives, and previous decisions of the courts, known as the ‘common law’.

In Australia, at the Federal level judges are appointed by the Governor General, having been selected by Cabinet on the advice of the Attorney-General. In the States and Territories, judges and magistrates are appointed by the Governor or Administrator, having been selected by Cabinet on the advice of the Attorney-General.

Persons appointed judges and magistrates are required to have legal qualifications and are expected to have experience and training suitable for the position to which they are appointed.  They are commonly appointed from the ranks of legal practitioners although some appointments have been made of persons with other suitable legal experience such as prominent academics.

Known as the ‘third arm’ of government, the courts are independent of the legislature and executive, which enables judges and magistrates to decide on cases in an impartial manner. Indeed, the oath that Australian judicial officers take before appointment includes a promise: “[to] do right to all manner of people according to law without fear or favour, affection or ill will”.

For a more comprehensive explanation of the role of the judiciary, see the following resources:

  • A paper presented by former AJOA President Justice Steven Rares at an international conference in 2010 titled ‘What is a Quality Judiciary?
  • The Guide to Judicial Conduct (2007, 2nd ed.) prepared by The Australasian Institute of Judicial Administration (AIJA) and approved by The Council of Chief Justices of Australia provides a useful exposition of the standards expected of Australian judges and magistrates. To download the Guide, please click here.
  • A speech by Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria, the Hon. Chief Justice Marilyn Warren AC titled The Judicial Burden: An Address to the Judges of the County Court of Victoria.
  • A speech by the former Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, the Hon. Murray Gleeson AC QC titled The Role of the Judge and Becoming a Judge.

To find out more about the operation of specific Australian courts, follow the links provided on our Related Organisations page.