Key Legal Terms


An enforceable universal rule created by a sovereign power.

Sovereign Power

A person or institution that has the authority to make laws.

Statute law

Law made by parliament

Common Law

System of law developed over time by judges. Formed by judge when there is a lack of statute law.


Ways of behaving based on unwritten tradition.


Ensure the smooth operation of society. Apply only to certain people at certain times.


A reflection of the things that society considers important.


The things that society considers to be right and wrong.

Characteristics of Just Laws

Equal, based on widely held values, utilitarian, redress inequalities, minimise delay, not retrospective and known.


A combination of equality, fairness and access.

Procedural fairness/Natural Justice

Fair Treatment under the law.

Examples of Procedural fairness/Natural Justice

The right to participate in legal proceedings in which you are involved, the right to know the accusation made against you, the right to have a hearing, the right to have your case heard before an unbiased court, the right to test evidence and the right to not have previous convictions used against you.

Rule of law

Limitation on the arbitrary use of power.

Examples of Rule of Law

Independent Judiciary, defendant not forced to incriminate themselves, regulated enforcement, not retrospective, Protects Human Rights.


Courts and the judges and magistrates who sit in them.


A system of society without government or law.


A form of government in which the sovereign power uses arbitrary power.


Principles developed to provide fairer remedies than those of common law. Became part of common law in 1873.


A court order that prevents a person from doing something.

Specific performance

A court order that requires a person to fulfil an obligation they undertook as part of a contract.


A decision made by a court that establishes a point of law.

Binding Precedent

A court must follow this precedent. In Australia this occurs if it is set by a higher court.

Persuasive Precedent

May influence a decision but a court is not bound to follow it . E.g. Precedent made in other jurisdictions.

Ratio decidendi

Reason for the decision that creates a precedent.

Obiter dicta

Other statements made by judges that do not create a precedent but may be persuasive.


The area over which a court has power.

Adversary System

Two opposing sides who argue their case before a court which is presided over by a neutral third party.

Original jurisdiction

The power of a court to hear a case for the first time.

Appellate jurisdiction

The power of a court to hear a matter on appeal from a lower court.

Cross Examination

When a lawyer for one party in a case asks questions of a witness called by the opposing party.

Adversary system

System of law in which there are two opposing sides who argue their case before a court, which is presided over by a neutral third party.


Where two parties in dispute meet to discuss their concerns through mutual negotiation.

Summary Offences

Less serious offences. Run by a single magistrate.

Indictable Offences

Serious offences. Run by a Judge and uses a Jury.

Local Court

Only summary offences . Can deal with civil claims involving up to 100,000 dollars. Also holds committal hearings.

Committal Hearing

For the police to demonstrate they have enough evidence to convict someone of an indictable offence in a higher court.

Coroners Court

To investigate unexplained deaths and fires.

Childrens Court

Deals with any matter involving persons under 18 at the time of the offence. Only exception is murder which is held in the supreme court.

Land and Environment Court

Deals with matters involving environmental planning and land compensation.

District Court

Indictable Offences and civil claims from 100,000 to 750,000. Can hear appeals from inferior courts.

Supreme Court

Most serious Indictable offences and civil claims with a minimum of 750,000. Appellate jurisdiction over inferior courts.

Family Court

Deals with family law such as divorce usually only has single judge.

Federal Court

Broad jurisdiction such as trade practices, immigration and tax.

High Court

Highest Court in Australia. Matters involving the constitution. Appellate jurisdiction over all inferior courts.


A document that outlines the rules for the governing body of a nation.

Division of Power

Divides power between the federal government and the state government. This is detailed in the Constitution.

Exclusive Powers

Powers granted only to the commonwealth powers such as Trade and Immigration.

Residual Powers

Powers which the states have retained. These powers are outlined in the constitution and include Transport and Education.

Concurrent Powers

Powers which the state and Commonwealth governments share. E.g. Healthcare.

Federal Executive Council

Made up of governor general, Prime Minister and Senior Ministers.

Separation of Power

The splitting of power between the parliament the commonwealth executive and the Judicature.

House of Representatives

Lower House. 150 members and the leader of the party with a majority becomes Prime Minister. Makes legislation.


Represents the State and Territories. 12 representatives per state and 2 per territory. Elected for 6 years. Reviews legislation but can also make legislation.

Governor General

The representative of the Queen in Australia. Approves passed legislation. Has certain powers of the parliament. Part of the Federal Executive Council.

Private Members Bill

Bill created by a member of Parliament.

Government Sponsored Bill

Minister is appointed to develop a bill for the government.


A piece of Proposed legislation.

First Reading

Minister or Private Member will introduce the bill to the house in which they sit and copies will be distributed.

Second Reading

The bill is debated.

Committee Stage

Each individual clause is debated.

Third Reading

The House is asked to vote on the bill. If successful the bill will go to the Senate where the entire process is repeated (except for the first reading if the bill originated in the senate.)

Royal Assent

The governor generals approval of the bill and makes it law.

Delegated Legislation

Legislation made by non-parliamentary bodies.


Legislation made by the Governor General or members of the Federal Executive Council


Laws made for the territories of Australia such as the Antarctic Territory

Rules (Delegated Legislation)

Legislation made for government departments often by the government departments


Laws made in accordance with the Local Government Act which allow local councils to make laws that apply within their area.

Australian Law Reform Commission

Permanent, full time body which provides advice on areas of law reform to the Australian Government.

NSW Law Reform Commission

Permanent, full time body which provides advice on areas of law reform to the NSW Government.

Parliamentary Committees

Investigate matters of concern to the community and suggest reform. Contains members from all major parties and also includes experts. E.g. Road Safety Committee

Royal Commission

Can be set up to investigate specific areas of the law. E.g. Police Corruption

Permanent Advisory Bodies

Monitor particular laws and propose reforms. E.g. Bureau of Crime Statistics


A body of representatives that makes laws for a nation.

Conditions that give rise to law reform

Failure of existing laws, New concepts of Justice, changing composition of Justice, New Technology.

Agencies of Law Reform

Help to initiate law reform. Includes the ALRC, NSWLRC, Parliamentary Committees, Royal Commission, Permanent Advisory Bodies, Parliment, Media and NGO's.

Mechanisms of Law Reform

Reforms the Law. Includes the Courts, Parliament and Intergovernmental Organisations

Customary Law

A system of rules of conduct which is felt obligatory upon them by the members of a definable group of people. This definition is not absolute. Was created by Justice Blackburn.


the relationship between individuals and their extended family/clan and the bonds that tie the group together.

Features of Aboriginal Law

Signifigance of land and water (land collectively owned), Family and Kinship, Rituals/Oral Traditions (law is oral/faces painted at trial). If mediation does not work then conciliation with elders or if serious then punishment.

Customary Punishments

Revenge, Trial by Ordeal (spear throwing), Inquest (investigate death often in supernatural ways), Ridicule, Isolation and Fighting.

Circle Sentencing

A process by which sentencing is taken to the local indigenous community. The magistrate and Elders sit in a circle with the guilty person and discuss the crime and impose a sentence.

Terra Nullius

Legal Concept which means "land of no one". Allowed Britain to take possession of this type of land and impose their own legal system.

Native Title

The recognition by Australian law that some ATSI people have rights and interests to their land that stem from their traditional laws and customs.

Native Title Act

Statute law which helped manage native title.

Native Title Tribunal

A government agency which assists with administration, mediation and organisation regarding Native Title.

Gove Land Rights Case

A case in 1971 which ruled that native title did not occur.

Mabo (No 1)

A case against queensland where Mabo who represented the murrary islanders proved that the Island Declatory Act contravened the Racial Discrimination Act.

Mabo (No 2)

Mabo proved that Native Title Existed and proved that terra nullius was false.

Wik Case

Allowed native title to co-exist with pastoral leasing.

Native Title Amendment Act 1998

Restricted native title by creating tougher criteria and extinguished native title when land was privately owned before 1994 and extinguished Native Title when pastoral leasing occurred before 1994 as well as other reforms.