District Courts were originally established by "The District Court Act of 1858" with the Governor-in-Council empowered to appoint districts. A District Court, Cairns was established on 25 October 1883. District Court jurisdiction continued until 1922 when, under the "Supreme Court Act 1921", District Courts were abolished. However, in 1959 District Courts were reintroduced, and Cairns was proclaimed a place to hold a District Court on19 March 1959, and a District Court judge was assigned on 2 April 1959.
Under the "District Court of Queensland Act 1967", the District Court generally holds criminal jurisdiction for cases where the maximum term of imprisonment does not exceed 14 years; civil jurisdicion concerning claims between $50,000 and $250,000; hears appeals from Magistrates Courts. Appeals from the District Court may be made to the Court of Appeal.
The Childrens Court of Queensland, and the Planning and Environment Court are District Courts.
Under the District Court Regulation 1993 and 2005, the district of the District Court, Cairns consists of the Magistrates Court districts of Cairns, Cooktown and Thursday Island.