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AU WA S174




  • 1883-01-01 - (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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Each Supreme Court judge and certain court officials kept notes during the course of proceedings.

The court officials who kept records of proceedings included:
1. The Master of the Supreme Court, who was also the Registrar and the Keeper of the Records of the Supreme Court (Supreme Court Ordinance 1861, 24 Vic No 15).
2. The Associate, whose duties included keeping records and attending Nisi Prius cases.

A set of bench books was maintained by each judge, and different types of sittings were kept in separate volumes (see list below).

The consignment lists give for each volume the name of the judge or official who kept it, the type of sittings and the date range. An identifying number has been allocated to each volume by the State Archives for use when requesting the records.

In some cases, for example Criminal and Civil cases, Elections Petitions and Bankruptcy, the State Archives might also hold the official case file for a case mentioned in the Bench Notebook. Consult the series and consignment lists for those series to check this.

Main Categories of Sittings in the Bench Notebooks
Full Court: the full bench of all Supreme Court Judges.
In Chambers: court held in the private office of a judge, master or registrar. The public was not admitted, although the judgement might be given in open court if the matter was one of public interest. The cases were generally interlocutory proceedings - preliminary stages of civil proceedings.
Nisi Prius: trial by jury before a single judge on a certain day.
Circuit Courts: held at various centres, eg Kalgoorlie; both criminal and civil.
Elections Petitions
Conciliation and Arbitration


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