High Court of Australia

The High Court is the highest of all Federal and State courts in Australia. It is based in Canberra, but can sit in state capitals when necessary. Through its decisions, it can impose uniformity. Being at the top of all Australian hierarchies, High Court precedent applies to all Federal, State and Territory courts.


The High Court has three main functions:

  1. The guardian of the Constitution. It has the sole power to interpret the Constitution, and in its interpretation it can extend or restrict the jurisdictional power of the Commonwealth and states, as well as develop Constitutional rights.
  2. It ensures that neither the Commonwealth nor the states go beyond their law-making power.
  3. Similarly to other courts, it can interpret legislation and rule on certain criminal matters


There is one Chief Justice and six other justices. These justices are appointed by the Governor-General on the Government’s advice.


The number of judges presiding affects the jurisdiction of the High Court

Single Justice

  • Matters arising under a treaty
  • Matters where the Commonwealth itself is a party
  • Disputes between the states
  • Matters arising under Commonwealth law
  • Certain criminal matters (including treason and sedition)

Full Court (three justices sitting)

  • Appeals from a single justice of the High Court
  • Appeals from a state or territory Supreme Court
  • Appeals from other Federal Courts

Full Bench (seven justices sitting)

  • Matters regarding Constitutional interpretation
  • Cases where the High Court may need to depart form a previous decision
  • Matters of significant public importance

See also:

High Court interpretation of the Constitution

High Court cases affecting the division of law-making powers

Original and appellate jurisdictions