Legal Dictionary

federal court

Legal Definition of federal court

Related terms

Definition of federal court

Further reading

Federal court may refer to a court of the national government in a country that has a federal system of government. Examples include:

  • United States federal courts
    • A particular federal court, such as the United States district courts.
  • In some countries, a particular court, for example:
    • Federal Court of Australia
      The Federal Court of Australia is an Australian superior court of record which has jurisdiction to deal with most civil disputes governed by federal law (with the exception of family law matters), along with some summary criminal matters. Cases are heard at first instance by single Judges. The Court includes an appeal division referred to as the Full Court comprising three Judges, the only avenue of appeal from which lies to the High Court of Australia. In the Australian court hierarchy, the Federal Court occupies a position equivalent to the Supreme Courts of each of the states and territories. In relation to the other Courts in the federal stream, it is equal to the Family Court of Australia, and superior to the Federal Magistrates' Court. It was established in 1976 by the Federal Court of Australia Act.
    • Federal Court (Canada)
      The Federal Court is a Canadian trial court that hears cases arising under certain areas of federal law. The Federal Court is a superior court with nationwide jurisdiction. The court was created on July 2, 2003 by the Courts Administration Service Act when it and the Federal Court of Appeal were split from their predecessor, the Federal Court of Canada.
    • Federal Court of India, existed from 1937 to 1950
      The Federal Court of India was a judicial body, established in India in 1937 under the provisions of the Government of India Act 1935, with original, appellate and advisory jurisdiction. It functioned until 1950, when the Supreme Court of India was established. The seat of the Federal Court was at Delhi. There was a right of appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London from the Federal Court of India.
    • Federal Court of Justice of Germany
      The Federal Court of Justice of Germany (German: Bundesgerichtshof, BGH) in Karlsruhe is the highest court in the system of ordinary jurisdiction (ordentliche Gerichtsbarkeit) in Germany. It is the supreme court (court of last resort) in all matters of criminal and private law.
    • Federal Court of Malaysia
      The Federal Court of Malaysia (Malay: Mahkamah Persekutuan Malaysia) is the highest court and the final appellate court in Malaysia. It is housed in the Palace of Justice in Putrajaya. The court was established during Malaya's independence in 1957 and received its current name in 1994.

Federal Court of Malaysia

- History

The earliest predecessor of the Federal Court was the Court of Judicature of Prince of Wales' Island (now Penang), Singapore and Malacca, which was established by the Second Charter of Justice, issued by the Crown as letters patent dated 27 November 1826. The Court was presided over by the Governor of the Straits Settlements and Resident Councillor of the settlement where the court was to be held, and another judge called the Recorder. The Third Charter of Justice of 12 August 1855 reorganized the Court, providing the Straits Settlements with two Recorders, one for Prince of Wales' Island and the other for Singapore and Malacca.

Following the reconstitution of the Straits Settlements as a Crown colony with effect from 1 April 1867, the Court of Judicature was replaced by the Supreme Court of the Straits Settlements. The Governor and Resident Councillors ceased to be judges of the Court.

Further changes to the Court's constitution were made in 1873. It now consisted of two divisions - the Chief Justice and the Senior Puisne Judge formed the Singapore and Malacca division of the Court, while the Judge of Penang and the Junior Puisne Judge formed the Penang division. The Supreme Court also received jurisdiction to sit as an Court of Appeal in civil matters. In 1878 the jurisdiction and residence of judges was made more flexible, thus impliedly abolishing the geographical division of the Supreme Court. Appeals from decisions of the Supreme Court lay first to the Court of Appeal and then to the Queen-in-Council, the latter appeals being heard by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

As a result of legislation passed in 1885, the Supreme Court consisted of the Chief Justice and three puisne judges. The Court was significantly altered in 1907. It now had two divisions, one exercising original civil and criminal jurisdiction and the other appellate civil and criminal jurisdiction.

During the Japanese occupation of Singapore (1942-1945), all the courts that had operated under the British were replaced by new courts established by the Japanese Military Administration. The Syonan Koto-Hoin (Supreme Court) was formed on 29 May 1942; there was also a Court of Appeal, but it was never convened.

Following the end of World War II, the courts that had existed before the war were restored. There was no change in the judicial system when the Straits Settlements were dissolved in 1946 and Singapore became a crown colony in its own right, except that the Supreme Court of the Straits Settlements became known as the Supreme Court of Singapore.

The courts of Penang and Malacca merged with the rest of Malaya to form the Supreme Court of the Federation of Malaya. This continued upon independence in 1957 until 1963. When Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak, and Singapore formed Malaysia in 1963, the court was renamed the Federal Court of Malaysia.

The judicial power of Malaysia was vested in a Federal Court, a High Court in Malaya, a High Court in Borneo (now the High Court in Sabah and Sarawak), and a High Court in Singapore (which replaced the Supreme Court of the Colony of Singapore). Appeals lay from the High Court in Singapore to the Federal Court in Kuala Lumpur, and then to the Privy Council.

The merger did not last: in 1965 Singapore left the Federation of Malaysia and became an independent republic. However, the High Court of Singapore remained part of the Malaysian Federal Court structure until 1969, when Singapore enacted the Supreme Court of Judicature Act to regularize the judicial system.

Before 1985, the Federal Court remained the second highest court in the land, being subordinate to the Privy Council in England. On 1 January 1978, appeals to the Privy Council in criminal and constitutional matters were abolished, while appeals in civil matters were abolished on 1 January 1985. When appeals to the Privy Council were abolished, the court was renamed Supreme Court of Malaysia. Finally, on 24 June 1994, as part of reforms, the court was once again renamed the Federal Court of Malaysia.


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1.     lex situs
2.     lex causae
3.     lex fori
4.     lex loci celebrationis
5.     lex domicilii
6.     corporal punishment
7.     landed property
8.     Clayton's Case
9.     buggery
10.     lex loci delicti commissi