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The Chaser’s Guide to the Australian Legal System

For tens of thousands of years, Australia’s indigenous peoples practiced their own forms of justice, according to their own concepts of law. Across the breadth of the continent, different legal traditions and concepts flourished, honed and refined over millennia. Many of these customs survive to the present day, and continue to inform the lives of indigenous Australians.

Or, if you’re a conservative, Australia’s legal history began in 1788 with the arrival of the First Fleet.

Australia has a long and proud legal tradition, which represents the finest ideals of our nation. From the earliest days of British colonisation, when governors were vested with almost dictatorial powers to do as they liked, through to the establishment of the first courts which boldly blazed new trails by doing whatever English courts already did, to the present day with our extremely patriotic rates of indigenous over-incarceration.

In the 21st century, the justice system has kept pace with modern mores. Visit any courthouse in the nation and you will see highly trained professionals putting on robes like they’re Harry Potter extras. If you’re especially lucky, you might even get a glimpse of a portly middle-aged man,in a curly wig, berating a rape victim for drinking too much, while a room full of people watches on silently.

Going to Court
Navigating the legal system can be challenging from the outside. There are many tricky and overly technical terms such as writs of summons, forum non conveniens and guilty. To help with this problem, many people choose to retain the services of a lawyer, who is essentially someone you pay to break bad news to you.

Lawyers in Australia are divided between solicitors and barristers. One of them does the work outside of court while the other does the work on their tax planning. Then they might employ even more people like a Senior Counsel. This is sometimes called a Queen’s Counsel, because some Liberal Party politicians still have delusions that Australia is still part of the Mother Country.

A Senior Counsel is sometimes referred to as a silk because of their silky soft skin, which comes from decades of avoiding manual labour.

So now you have all 18 of your lawyers briefed, paid and ready to go. You can sit back and wait several years for the litigation to resolve itself. Justice is served.

Hierarchy of Courts
Here is a list of all of Australia’s courts, from lowest to highest:

  • A pub parking lot
    The court of first resort.While justice can be swift and brutal, it is often delayed by about five to ten minutes of dudes shouting ‘No, you’re the poofter’ at each other, while walking in a circle. There is no right of appeal, but you are allowed to tell your mates that you won, without repercussions.
  • Local Courts
    Local courts are the courts with the best vending machines. Your judge will inevitably be an alumnus of Law and Order, Seasons 1 to 6. Local courts hear small matters such as petty claims and human rights complaints.
  • District Courts
    The District Court is a sad little court in a sad little place. It signifies nothing, only the emptiness it vainly occupies, a desperate clawing at the fabric of a reality that’s not its to possess. Cases sent here are sent to their demise. There is no justice in such a place. Only ruin.
  • Supreme Courts
    Every state has a Supreme Court. To give you a sense of how important this court is, this is where theSuper League dispute was heard. And there can be no graver case in Australian law than one involving sport. The judicial officers of the Supreme Court are called ‘justices’, just like those of the High Court. This means that a Supreme Court justice’s disapproving in-laws will introduce them by saying, “And this is our son-in-law, George. He’s a justice – but only of the Supreme Court.”
  • The Federal Court
    If you’re the kind of pervert who really gets off on taxation disputes, head on down to the Federal Court. You sick fuck.
  • The High Court
    The High Court is the supreme court in the Australian court hierarchy, not to be confused with the Supreme Court, which, to be fair, is a very high court. Not just anyone can take a case to the High Court. If you want to appeal a case from a lower court, you need ‘special leave’ – proof that your case is unique enough to be made in to a telemovie or at least an episode of Australian Story.

This article originally appeared in The Chaser’s Guide to Australia (CQ#4): buy it here. 


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