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Tasmania has a two tier court system made up of the Magistrates Court and the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court acts as an appeals court. Other states have a three tier system due to larger population sizes and greater case loads for courts.

The administrative and ceremonial head of the Supreme Court is the Chief Justice. There are five other judges. Judges are appointed by the Governor on the advice of the Executive Council. This Council is comprised of State Ministers, the Premier, and representatives from the legal profession. Judges are addressed in court as ‘Your Honour’, ‘Madam’ or ‘Sir’.

The Supreme Court deals with civil cases above a money limit of $50,000 and criminal cases which are heard by a jury. The Supreme Court also hears appeals from civil and criminal decisions of the Magistrates Court. The Full Court of the Supreme Court (which consists of three Supreme Court judges) hears appeals from decisions of a single judge in the ordinary Supreme Court. Similarly, the Court of Criminal Appeal (also with three judges) hears appeals from decisions of a single trial judge in criminal cases. Decisions of the Full Court and the Criminal Court of Appeal can be appealed to the High Court of Australia, which usually sits in Canberra. It only hears appeals which concern the Constitution or an important point of law.

The Supreme Court has its ‘Principal Registry’ at Salamanca Place in Hobart and ‘District Registries’ in Launceston and Burnie. Judges sit in these centres for trials but appeals involving three judges only take place in Hobart.

Settlement of civil cases by mediation is gaining ground in the Supreme Court, but mediation is not compulsory. The Associate Judge, previous known as ‘the Master’ helps to manage the civil jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.

In the past, civil cases in the Supreme Court may have taken years to come to trial, or settle. It is not unusual for personal injury cases to take seven to eight years to resolve. The Court has an active case management focus, which means it intervenes to move cases on – diverting dispute into alternative methods of dispute resolution in order to confine the issues that will appear before the court for resolution. Conciliation is compulsory in the SC, it is free, and noncompliance will see the case not being listed for hearing.These case management procedures are also used in the Magistrates Court. There are indications that new case management procedures are making the court process quicker, and more accessible.

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