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Legal System

Australia - Legal System

In the eyes of the Australian legal system, all people are equal. There are systems in place which ensure that nobody is treated unfairly by any section of the law. The system of common law was first developed in the UK and this is the foundation of the Australian legal system. The United States has a similar legal system.

One of the main features of this system is that when a judge is making a decision he can use the decisions taken in cases that have previously gone before the courts. Australia has a written constitution which first established the system of government in 1901 and defined the powers that were to be held by each section of the government. Federal law is applied across the country and if there is any difference in the laws applied by individual states then federal law must be adhered to.

Australia has – theoretically – nine legal systems. One for each of the states and the federal legal system. Most people will be concerned solely with the laws and systems that are applied in their own state. Each of these systems will have three branches. The legislative branch which makes the laws, the executive branch which oversees day to day running of the states and the judicial which ensures that the law is correctly applied.

There are several levels of courts in Australia. The High Court is appointed to apply the law and oversee cases of particular significance. It will deal with any challenges that individuals or organisations make as to the validity of the law and will hear any appeals against decisions that have already been made in a court. Other courts in the Australian legal system are the Federal Court of Australia, the Family Court and the Magistrate’s Court. Each state will also have courts which may be given federal powers.

The Federal Court deals with any and all civil matters as well as some criminal cases. There is also an appeals process through the Federal Court for cases that are not family-related. The family court will deal with a wide variety of family disputes, in particular divorce and child custody. The Magistrate’s Court was established in 1999 and covers a wide variety of cases such as bankruptcy, consumer law, some family law and commercial law. The Magistrate’s court shares jurisdiction with the family court and the federal court.

The state courts deal with local laws and issues. Some federal matters are dealt with at state level too. It is the state courts that will deal with most criminal matters. All the state courts have different levels too and there are ‘county’ courts which deal with the most serious criminal and family matters. In serious criminal cases it is usual for a jury of 12 people to hear a case. Australian courts work on the basis that you are innocent until proven guilty and this must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. Australia does not have the death penalty.

All those who need it are entitled to legal representation. Those who are unable to afford a lawyer can apply for legal aid. Funding for legal aid is monitored by the department of the Attorney-General and there are specific legal aid services for Aborigines. Each state has a legal aid commission.

There are a number of agencies which have been established in order to protect the legal rights of citizens and other residents of the country, including the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission and the Commonwealth Ombudsman. The Ombudsman was created in order to carry out investigations into complaints made by those who feel as though they have not been treated fairly. Disputes are dealt with through negotiation.

The administrative appeals tribunal oversees decisions which have been taken by government ministers and other organisations. The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission exists to ensure that discrimination and other forms of human rights breaches are dealt with and understanding of the issues is promoted where needed.

Australia has a national police force and all states apart from the Capital Territory have their own police forces that deal with local and state crimes. Policing in the Capital Territory is taken care of by the Federal Police.

Australia works hard to cooperate on a legal level with other nations. There are a number of treaties in place including more than 120 extradition treaties. There are also treaties in place that deal with other issues such as health, defence and many more.

Read more about this country

Expat Health Insurance Partners

Bupa Global

At Bupa we have been helping individuals and families live longer, healthier, happier lives for over 60 years. We are trusted by expats in 190 different countries and have links with healthcare organisations throughout the world. So whether you're moving abroad for a change of career or a change of scene, with our international private health insurance you will always be in safe hands.


Cigna has worked in international health insurance for more than 30 years. Today, Cigna has over 71 million customer relationships around the world. Looking after them is an international workforce of 31,000 people, plus a network of over 1 million hospitals, physicians, clinics and health and wellness specialists worldwide, meaning you have easy access to treatment.