• Concept

Law in the Northern Territory


Law in the Northern Territory (NT) needs to be understood in light of the history of the territory’s governance. From 1863 until 1911, the territory was known as the Northern Territory of South Australia, having been annexed to the Colony of South Australia by the British Government. The position of Government Resident was responsible for the administration of the Northern Territory, and reported to the South Australian Government. At this time, its laws were made by the Colony and State of South Australia.

In 1911, responsibility for the Northern Territory of Australia was transferred to the Commonwealth of Australia. From 1927 to 1931, the territory was divided at the 20th parallel into two regions, North and Central. Both were administered by the Commonwealth with a Government Resident based in each region. The regions recombined as the Northern Territory in June 1931, and continued to be administered by the Commonwealth of Australia. Laws in the NT between 1911 and 1978 were made by federal (Commonwealth) Acts, or by Ordinances made by the Governor-General.

In 1947, the Northern Territory (Administration) Act was amended to create a Northern Territory Legislative Council. However, power remained with the Commonwealth until 1978 when the Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act 1978 was passed. At this time, all existing laws and ordinances of the NT continued to be in effect.

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