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- Legal system
The legal system of Australia has nine distinct jurisdictions – the eight states and territories and a federal system. Effectively it is the state and territory laws that mainly affect the day-to-day lives of most Australians. The Common Law system, as developed in the United Kingdom, forms the basis of Australian jurisprudence. The system consists of a number of courts, including the Federal Court, the Family Court and Supreme Courts in each of the states, all of which are presided over by Chief Justices.
In 2010 the Federal Court had 48 judges while the Family Court had 38. Judges are appointed by the government, although it does not possess the authority to sack them. The High Court of Australia deals, at its discretion, with appeals arising from lower courts. This usually occurs when they are thought to be of sufficient public interest or when there is a difference in interpretation of the law among the lower courts. A Chief Justice and six justices preside over the court. Its main jurisdiction is in dealing with cases involving international law and domestic constitutional issues.
Lawyers may act as advocates, barristers or solicitors depending on the state or territory. At least the degree of LLB (a three-year course) is required for entrance into practice followed by a legal qualification course and apprenticeship.
Australia’s top legal professional body is the Law Council of Australia. It represents 15 of the Law Societies and Bar Associations in Australia’s eight States and Territories, which are the Law Council’s constituent bodies. In this capacity the Law Council is effectively the representative for approximately 50,000 Australian lawyers. It is also responsible for representing the Australian legal profession overseas and maintaining close relations with legal professional bodies throughout the world.
As Australia is a federation of states and territories, admission to practice law is the responsibility of the Law Societies and Bar Associations in each individual state and territory. Each state has its own requirements and membership rules. Once a lawyer is licensed, he or she may be accepted to other bar associations in the nation under a mutual recognition scheme.
The largest law firms in Australia, informally known as the ‘big six’, are Allens Arthur Robinson, Blake Dawson, Clayton Utz, Freehills, Mallesons Stephen Jaques and Minter Ellison. Four of these firms – Allens Arthur Robinson, Blake Dawson, Freehills and Mallesons Stephen Jaques – entered into association arrangements or mergers with overseas firms in 2012. Notable law associations include Australian Corporate Lawyers Association and Australian Lawyers Alliance.
Information from the World Economic Forum, The Global Competitiveness Report 2012–13.
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