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Audio Ron Merkel explains trials before a judge in Australia, 2008

TLF ID R10294

This is an edited sound recording of former Federal Court of Australia judge Ron Merkel outlining the general procedure for a trial before a judge in Australia. Merkel explains the elements of pleadings, cross-examination of witnesses and final submissions to the judge. He also outlines the way in which a judge prepares and writes a judgement and he talks about how the judgement can be appealed in higher courts. Merkel says that different views are possible on legal issues and it would be a 'terrible mistake' for a judge to be upset at having been overruled on appeal. The recording was made in December 2008.

Educational details

Educational value
  • This recording gives an overview of the process of a trial before a judge alone. Such trials usually involve civil matters. People facing serious criminal charges are usually tried before a judge and jury. The jurisdiction of the Federal Court, on which Ron Merkel (1941-) served, covers almost all civil matters arising under Australian federal law. It can also deal with some summary criminal matters.
  • The recording illustrates how a judge relies heavily on documents presented at the start of a trial. Merkel explains how pleadings are presented by the parties - the prosecution and the defence - outlining the facts of the case and the issues that must be decided by the judge. This is a key element of the adversarial system of law practised in Australia. The judge's role is to hear the arguments of the two sides in a case and then to apply the law when making a decision.
  • Included in this recording is an explanation of how an Australian judge goes about reaching a decision in a case. Merkel says that the judge must first decide what he or she believes to be the facts. They then apply the relevant legal principles. Depending on the complexity of a case, it can sometimes take weeks or even months for a judge to prepare a judgement. It often takes several hours to deliver the judgement in the courtroom.
  • This recording provides a rare insight into how a former judge felt about having his judgements challenged. Merkel says that his decisions in the Federal Court could be appealed to a 'full court', meaning three judges of the Federal Court. A full court decision could then sometimes be appealed to the High Court. Merkel says that legal issues are open to different interpretations, and appeals are an integral part of Australia's legal system.
  • Merkel was on the bench of the Federal Court from 1996 to 2006. He could have remained on the bench until compulsory retirement at the age of 70 (in 2011). However, he decided to retire as a judge and return to work as a barrister, focusing in particular on human rights and Indigenous cases. Prior to becoming a judge Merkel held prominent positions in groups devoted to civil liberties, immigration advice and Indigenous legal issues.

Other details

  • Publisher
  • Date of contribution: 20 Sep 2013
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia
  • Address: Melbourne VIC 3000 Australia
  • URL:
  • Copyright holder
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia
  • Address: Melbourne VIC 3000 Australia
  • URL:
  • Remarks: Copyright Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Content provider
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia
  • Address: Melbourne VIC 3000 Australia
  • URL:
  • Author
  • Date of contribution: 2008
  • Name: Ron Merkel
  • Remarks: speaker
Access profile
  • Colour independence
  • Device independence
Learning resource type
  • Sound
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  • Safari - minimum version: 5.1 (MacOS)
Operating systems
  • MacOS - minimum version: 10.6
  • MS-Windows - minimum version: XP - maximum version: 7
  • © Education Services Australia Ltd, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements.