2.1 WA courts
In WA, the superior court is the Supreme Court, the intermediate court is the District Court and the lower courts are the Magistrates’ Courts. Minor cases involving a smaller sum of money (up to $75,000) or a petty criminal offence would commence in the Magistrates’ Court: and if the unsuccessful party is unhappy with the decision, this can be appealed in turn to the District Court and/or the Supreme Court. Moderate amounts of money (up to $750,000) and many criminal offences commence at the District Court level, and can be appealed to the Supreme Court. Disputes over large amounts of money and very serious criminal offences commence at the Supreme Court level. Cases can only be appealed from the Supreme Court to the High Court of Australia, which sits at the top of both the WA and federal court systems.
2.2 Federal courts
The High Court of Australia sits atop the federal court system, but below this is the Federal Court of Australia, followed by the Federal Circuit Court (previously called the Federal Magistrates Court). While most laws that govern Western Australians come under WA law, some specific areas are governed by federal law: including taxation, trade practices and native title.
The federal court system also includes the Family Court of Australia, which deals with family law cases in every state and territory except for WA. The Family Court of WA retains the jurisdiction to hear family law cases arising from WA.
2.3 Criminal vs civil law
There are two main types of cases that are dealt with by courts: criminal, and civil. Often, the same set of circumstances can give rise to either, or both, criminal or civil proceedings. For example, a car accident can result in civil actions for damages as well as criminal charges if dangerous or reckless driving is alleged.
2.4 Court process
In order to start an action, an application must be made to the relevant court to commence proceedings against the relevant opposing party (or, if it is criminal, against the accused individual). You should also note that nearly all civil actions in WA require the plaintiff (the applicant) to commence an action within a ‘limitation period’ – depending on the type of action and who the respondent is, this will normally vary between one and six years.