Federal Magistrates Court reforms: new name and expanded IP jurisdiction


The Federal Magistrates Court of Australia will be renamed the Federal Circuit Court of Australia, under legislation passed by the Senate on November 19 2012.

According to Attorney-General Nicola Roxon, the proposed change is designed to more accurately reflect the Federal Magistrates Court's "modern role and its accessibility for all court users" (Attorney-General for Australia, "'Federal Circuit Court of Australia' established in law" (media release, November 21 2012)). It will also reflect the "prominence of its [the court's] circuit work to regional areas and the federal nature of its jurisdiction" (Ibid). Federal magistrates will also be renamed 'judges' under the legislation, to better reflect their important role in the judicial system (Attorney-General for Australia, "Introducing the Federal Circuit Court of Australia" (media release, September 13 2012)).

The court's name changes, expected to come into force in the first half of 2013, will supplement the Raising the Bar legislative reforms, which expand the jurisdiction of the Federal Magistrates Court as of April 15 2013 to include more intellectual property cases, including:

  • matters arising under the Trademarks Act, including trademark infringement and rectification matters, and appeals from decisions of the registrar of trademarks.
  • matters arising under the Designs Act, including design infringement and revocation matters. This means that the Federal Circuit Court will have substantially the same jurisdiction as the Federal Court of Australia for design matters, subject to one exception in relation to hearing appeals (the Federal Circuit Court will not be able to hear an appeal from another court under Section 87 of the Designs Act: Explanatory Memorandum to the Raising the Bar legislative reforms, page 115).

Prior to this change, the Federal Magistrates Court could hear only civil copyright matters.

Both pieces of legislation are part of the government's current court reform agenda, which is designed to provide greater certainty around the roles and responsibilities of the federal courts. The broader court reform agenda, which commenced in 2009, aims to improve judicial transparency, accessibility and timely resolution of disputes.

Chris Jordan and Jessica Sapountsis, Davies Collison Cave, Melbourne 

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