Within the Australian system of decision-making bodies there are, in addition to the courts, a number of tribunals set up under State and Commonwealth Acts. Some of the tribunals are listed below. Their names suggest the work they handle.
Examples of State Tribunals
Examples of Commonwealth Tribunals
Tribunals are created by Statutes which determine what cases they can hear. Sometimes there is only one body to which an appeal can be directed, (for example, the Migration Review Tribunal). In other cases, the decisions of these tribunals can be appealed to a higher tribunal, which is generally a tribunal that hears a wider range of matters. In the Commonwealth sphere, this is the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, see Review by the administrative appeals tribunal. Under the State system this is the Administrative Appeals Division of the District Court, see state administrative appeals.
Tribunals tend to be more informal than courts, and tend to be quicker and have more cost effective procedures.
As tribunals are created by statute, they can only review matters which are specified by the relevant Act of Parliament. However, their powers are very broad and encompass all aspects of the decision. That is, as well as looking at the decision making process, tribunals can review the merits of a decision. This is to be contrasted with 'judicial review', see judicial review. In judicial review, the courts can review almost any decision and are not limited to a specified set of decisions (as tribunals are). On the other hand, courts are generally restricted to looking at how a decision was made and cannot review the merits of the decision (that is, the decision itself). This power to ensure that all proper procedures have been observed is a traditional province of the courts. Part of their role is to ensure that, in making decisions, the Executive observes all procedural obligations. This power of judicial review still exists at a Commonwealth level but has been modified at a State level [Supreme Court Rule 98], although the outcome of that judicial review application is similar to the old prerogative remedies, see prerogative remedies.
The Commonwealth recognised the deficiencies of common law judicial review and introduced the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977 (Cth). This Act gives the Federal Court a general power to review most administrative decisions. However, this remedy is similar to the prerogative remedies in that most grounds of review look at the procedure used in reaching a decision and cannot review the merits of the decision. In addition to all of these, there is usually also a right of appeal which may be limited or general. In the case of the Commonwealth Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) this is confined to an appeal against an 'error of law' by the tribunal (and not an appeal on the merits).
For more information on tribunals, see also Complaints Against Government Decisions.
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