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AU WA S887




  • 1896-01-01 - (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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The Settled Land Act of 1892 allowed for the sale, lease or improvement of land which was the subject of a settlement.
A settlement usually placed land in trust for a person, or limited land to a person for his/her lifetime by a will or a marriage settlement. In the latter cases, the person was known as the "tenant for life".

The Supreme Court could appoint:

  • trustees for a settlement;
  • someone to act for an infant tenant for life;
  • a committee to act for a lunatic tenant for life;

Other cases where the Supreme Court might act were:

  • disagreements concerning a settlement where there was more than one tenant for life;
  • differences between tenants and trustees of a settlement;
  • protection, recovery or improvement of settled land.

Most of these files document the following types of cases:

  • a parent who has bought land in trust for a child and later wishes to sell or mortgage the land;
  • where marriage settlements have bestowed land on one partner, who wishes to sell the land or to have a trustee appointed;
  • trustees acting for an infant requiring permission to sell land or use income from the land for the child's benefit or for their own recompense.

State Archives does not hold registers for these files. The consignment list supplies the names of parties involved and a control number to be used when requesting a file.


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