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AU WA S276




  • 1890-01-01 - 1939-01-01 (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.

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At the time of the foundation of the Swan River colony, there was no right of appeal at all in criminal proceedings under the common law and statute law of England. Two Acts in 1886, 50 Vic. No. 15 and 50 Vic. No. 28 provided for appeal in criminal jurisdiction, while the Criminal Law Appeal Act 1893 clarified the two earlier Acts. Under the Criminal Code Amendment Act of 1911 the Court of Criminal Appeal was constituted giving the right of appeal now contained in the Criminal Code. (This includes an appeal against conviction as of right on a question of law only, and with leave on a ground which involves a question of fact alone or a mixed question of fact and law, or an appeal against sentence). (Russell, E. A History of the law in Western Australia and its development from 1829-1879, Nedlands, UWA Press, 1980. p237-8).

Files are not numbered and are arranged chronologically. As there are no appeals registers held in the State Archives to date it is not possible to locate an appeal file through them. A search must be made for the period following the original hearing.


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Restricted 75 years from closure

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Range Control Symbol = 1 - 50

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