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  • 1864-01-01 - 1977-12-31 (Creation)

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Administrative history

A Court of Quarter Sessions was established in Western Australia in 1830 and a Civil Court established two years later. However, as the colony grew and as society became more complex, the judiciary became overtaxed. In the 1850s the equity jurisdiction of the Civil Court was challenged while the courts' jurisdiction in criminal matters was questioned. For these and other reasons, the Supreme Court Ordinance of 1861 was introduced.

The Supreme Court Ordinance (proclaimed on 18 June 1861) provided for a Supreme Court which had the same criminal, common law, and equity jurisdiction as the Courts of Westminister. The Ordinance amalgamated the Court of Quarter Sessions with the Supreme Court and transferred to it a number of functions of the Civil Court. For example, the Supreme Court was empowered to grant probates and letters of administration and given jurisdiction in bankruptcy matters. After 1863, the Supreme Court was also given jurisdiction in matrimonial causes (i.e. divorces).

Under the Ordinance, the officers of the Supreme Court were to be the Chief Justice (Archibald Paull Burt), an Attorney-General, a Master, and a Registrar.

In 1880 a new Supreme Court Act was introduced. The Act which came into force on 1 August 1881, clarified the Court's jurisidiction in admiralty matters and empowered the Chief Justice to make Rules for the conduct of the Court. Provision was also made for the appointment of one or more puisne judges and for the Chief Justice and other judges to sit as a Full Court. Initially, the Full Court could only entertain motions for retrials and pronounce on points of law, but after 1886 it was given the status of a Court of Appeal.

The first sitting of the Supreme Court was held on 3 July 1861 and for the first few years it occupied premises in the Police Court and Gaol Building in Beaufort Street, Perth. In 1863 it moved to the old (1836) Court House in Stirling Gardens and in 1880 moved again to the old (1835) Commissariat Store at the foot of Barrack Street. Despite alterations the Commissariat building was inadequate and in the 1890's work began on a new, purposely-designed courthouse. The new building, completed in 1903, is still the principal seat of the Supreme Court of Western Australia.

Archival history

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The Supreme Court of Western Australia was given jurisdiction in matrimonial causes by the Divorce and Matrimonial Causes Act of 1863 (27 Vic., No. 19). The Act provided that jurisdiction was to be exercised by a Court of Record known as the "Court for Divorce and Matrimonial Causes", to be held before the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Remedies under the Act were judicial separation, restitution of conjugal rights, dissolution and annulment. Either party could petition for judicial separation on grounds of adultery, cruelty, or desertion for two years. Dissolution could be granted to a husband on the ground of adultery of his wife, and to a wife on the ground of adultery of the husband, combined with another matrimonial offence such as cruelty or desertion. A husband could claim damages from an adulterer or a co-respondent; and, while similar provision were not extended to wives, the Court was empowered to make orders for alimony and for the custody of children.

The Act was amended in 1871 and many times thereafter. In 1961 the state's divorce laws were superceded by the Commonwealth Matrimonial Causes Act (1959), although cases under this Act were still heard by the W.A. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court did not relinquish responsibility in this area until after the state Family Court Act of 1976 came into effect. The 1976 Act established state - controlled Family Courts which took over from the Supreme Court divorce and matrimonial causes jurisdiction, as well as jurisdiction involving custody and maintenance.

Typically, the records in this series consist of petitions, counter-petitions, affidavits, notice of decrees, and related documents. Some files also include photographs and other evidence.

In order to identify particular files, researchers must first note the relevant disposition numbers in the Divorce Registers [WAS 40]. For records 75years and younger, researchers must apply in writing to the Principal Registrar of the Supreme Court. Application forms are also available from the State Records Office.


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Restricted 75 years

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Category of relationship


Description of relationship

Dates of relationship

1865-01-01 - 1976-12-31


Category of relationship


Description of relationship

Dates of relationship

1946-03-05 -


Category of relationship


Description of relationship

Dates of relationship

1949-11-17 -


Category of relationship


Description of relationship

Dates of relationship

1950-08-29 -

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Description control area

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Archivist's note

Range Control Symbol = 3/1865
Physform2 = 9
Copies: Microfilm copies of Cons 3404 are available at the State Records Office of Western Australia. Copies have been made by the Genealogical Society of Utah.

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