Understanding the Appeals Process in NSW

Understanding the Appeals Process in NSW

The appeals process in NSW provides a pathway for challenging court decisions, ensuring justice is served fairly. This guide by Empower Wills & Estate Lawyers explains the steps involved in appealing from Local Courts to higher courts in NSW. Understanding this process is crucial for anyone involved in court proceedings who may need to lodge an appeal.

The Basics of Filing an Appeal

An appeal is a formal request to a higher court to review and vary a decision made by a lower court. In NSW, the type of appeal and the court in which an appeal is lodged, depends on the original court decision. To initiate an appeal, a notice of appeal or (in some jurisdictions) a notice of intention to appeal must be filed, setting out the grounds of appeal and the reasons why the appellant believes the court decision was incorrect.

Appeals from Local Court to District Court

Appeals from the Local Court to the District Court in NSW typically involve cases where the appellant believes there has been an error in a criminal law decision or a sentence imposed by the Local Court. Known as a severity appeal (for sentence appeals) or a conviction appeal (for verdict appeals), these require lodging a notice of appeal with the District Court. The District Court judge may review the entire case, including evidence and court proceedings from the original Local Court hearing.

Navigating Appeals to the NSW District or Supreme Court

Appeals to the District Court or Supreme Court of New South Wales are typically reserved for more serious matters or complex legal issues. When appealing a decision from a lower court, appellants must file a notice of appeal and often apply for ‘leave to appeal’, particularly in cases with significant legal implications. The appeal process in these higher courts involves a review of the lower court’s findings and legal reasoning, and appellants should be prepared to submit legal arguments as to why the original decision was incorrect.

The Role of the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal

The NSW Court of Criminal Appeal is the highest criminal court in NSW, handling appeals against convictions and sentences imposed in the District or Supreme Court. To appeal to the court, appellants must file an ‘application for leave to appeal’ within a specified time frame after the original decision. The Court of Appeal reviews the original decision and determines whether the law was applied correctly and whether the sentence imposed was appropriate, offering a crucial avenue for rectifying miscarriages of justice in criminal cases.

The NSW Court of Appeal: Civil Appeals Process

  • Initiating an Appeal:
    • To appeal a decision made by the District Court or the Supreme Court of NSW, the first step is to file a notice of appeal.
    • An ‘application for leave to appeal’ may be required, especially for significant cases or where specific legal points are contested.
  • Right to Appeal and Grounds:
    • The right to appeal is not automatic in every case; it often depends on the grounds of appeal.
    • Grounds for appeal must be clearly stated, typically involving legal errors or significant procedural issues.
  • Filing and Timeframes:
    • The notice of appeal must be lodged within a specific timeframe, usually determined by the court’s practice and procedures or regulations.
    • If the timeframe is missed, an ‘application for an extension’ can be made, but the court may not grant this extension.
  • The Appeal Process:
    • Once an appeal is filed, the Court of Appeal reviews the lower court’s decision, examining the factual findings and the legal reasons in the original decision. 
    • Appeals can be against various aspects of the decision, such as liability of damages. 
  • Decision-Making by the Court:
    • The Court of Appeal may uphold, vary, or overturn the original decision based on its own findings.
    • In certain circumstances, the court may decide to remit the case back to the lower court for a new hearing.
  • Withdrawing an Appeal:
    • Appellants have the option to withdraw their appeal, but this must be done according to the court’s procedures and typically requires notifying the court and in some cases, the payment of the other side’s legal costs. 
  • Possible Outcomes:
    • The outcomes of an appeal can vary, from a complete reversal of the original decision to minor variations in the legal interpretation or application.
    • A party who is dissatisfied with the outcome of the Court of Appeal decision may seek special leave to appeal to the High Court.

When Cases Reach the High Court of Australia

To appeal to the High Court of Australia, one must file an ‘application for leave to appeal,’ as not all cases are automatically heard. The High Court selectively hears significant cases, often involving constitutional interpretation or matters of national importance. For an appeal to be considered, it must present special legal reasons or highlight inconsistencies in legal interpretations. Once granted, the High Court thoroughly reviews the lower court’s decisions, with the potential to affirm, vary, or overturn the lower court’s decision. The outcomes of these appeals are conclusive and establish critical legal precedents across Australia.

Key Considerations and Preparing for an Appeal

  • Evaluating the Grounds for Appeal:
    • Before proceeding with an appeal, it is crucial to evaluate whether there are grounds to appeal. This often involves an assessment of whether legal errors were made in the original trial or if there were procedural irregularities.
    • Advice from an experienced appeals lawyer is essential in this process, as they can provide a realistic assessment of the appeal’s chances of success.
  • Understanding the Appeal Process:
    • Understanding the appeal process, from the local court to the High Court, helps in making informed decisions. Each level of court has its own procedures and requirements for appeals.
    • Preparing for an appeal involves gathering evidence, formulating legal arguments, and being aware of the timelines and procedural rules.
  • Considerations for Proceeding:
    • Deciding to continue with an appeal requires careful consideration of factors such as the potential legal costs, the emotional and time investment required, and the likelihood of a successful outcome.
    • It is also important to consider the impact of the appeal on court proceedings and how it might affect the overall legal strategy.


Understanding the appeals process in NSW is crucial for navigating the legal landscape, from local court decisions to the complexities of the High Court of Australia. The journey of an appeal requires careful consideration of legal grounds, procedural knowledge, and the potential impact of the decisions made at each judicial level. Whether challenging a local court decision or taking a significant legal issue to the High Court, it’s essential to seek expert legal advice to ensure a well-informed approach and the best possible outcome. 

Liability limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation.

Disclaimer: the information in this article relates to NSW law as at the date it was written and is general information only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as legal advice. It may contain information or links to sources which are no longer current. If you have a question or legal issue, we recommend you contact a lawyer and obtain legal advice that takes into account your specific facts, circumstances, needs and objectives.

Join Our FREE Monthly Newsletter to receive

10% Off Our Services*

* Secure discount now and use it later. Discount applies to solicitor fees only for the life of a matter up to a maximum of $5,000 benefit.

Sign up here