Generally, state courts have broader jurisdictions than the federal courts hence generally try cases involving individual citizens and also cases that involve violations of the Australian Federal laws or the Australian Constitution. This paper uses murder as a serious crime against persons to explore the differences that are inherent between state and federal jurisdiction.

Murder is a capital crime against person and the most suitable court to hear such case is state trial court. However, murder cases are often accompanied by other offences such as depriving an individual of his/her civil rights. In order to have sufficient evidence against the offender, murder charges are launched at the state trial courts or Magistrate’s Courts; in which the offender is referred to as ‘defendant’. When the judge at the state court determines that there is sufficient evidence against the defendant, and that in the course of the offence breach of civil right was committed or there was intent to deny the complainant his or her civil rights  as spelled under federal law, the case is referred to the Federal Court. The offender is referred to as the ‘accused’ at the Federal Courts. Therefore, murder cases are heard at either county courts or Supreme Court (in New South Wales, murder cases are mostly heard by the NSW Supreme Court though other lower courts may be involved during the committal hearing stage).

In R v Hearne (2001) 124 A Crim R 451 at [34] the judge held that an offence involving an intent to kill is usually more serious than an offence relating to an intent to inflict serious bodily harm. However, in R v Hillsley (2006) 164 A Crim R 252, where a life sentence was imposed on a Crown appeal, the court maintained that even though intention to cause serious (or rightly grievous) bodily harm generally carries less culpability than an intention to kill, it is not always the case. As such, the judge held that even though the accused only intended to cause grievous bodily harm to the victim, the offence carries culpability equal to an intention to kill. In the case scenario leading to the case, the accused gained entry into the home of the victim and attacked him viciously. The attack, which was characterized by extreme violence led to the death of the victim. Initial ruling gave life sentence and an appeal was sought with argument that the judgment was not fair since the accused only intended cause bodily injury to the victim. However, the judge held that life sentence was fair for the accused. A similar ruling can be noted in R v Nelson (unreported, NSWCCA 25 June 1996) where McInerney J held that (where Gleeson CJ and Studdert J were also in agreement) that ‘there are circumstances where an intention to cause grievous bodily harm could attract similar criminality just as other cases involving an intention to kill.

Under the intention to inflict serious bodily injury, the case could be heard in a federal court or a state court in New South Wales. However, for the intention to kill, the case would be heard in the New South Wales since this involves murder charges and according to the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth), such cases involving indictable offences can only be heard by judge and jury of the Supreme Court.




Criminal Code Act 1995

R v Hearne (2001) 124 A Crim R 451 at [34]

R v Hillsley (2006) 164 A Crim R 252



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