- 1851-01-01 - 1879-01-01 (Creation)
- 1851-01-01 - 1879-01-01 (Accumulation)
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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 Legislative Council passed an Act for establishing the Court of Civil Judicature (2 Wm IV No. 1) on the 10 February 1832, to be known as the Civil Court of Western Australia. The Court was to be held before one Judge, called "The Commissioner of the Civil Court of Western Australia". The Court was to deal with all cases as the Courts of Westminister in England, with authority to appoint Guardians and Committees over persons and property of infants, idiots and lunatics, and to grant probates of Wills, and commit letters of Administration. Suits were to be commenced in the Court by Summons and not by arrest.
Pleadings in the Court were to be oral and made in person. In 1861 all the powers of the Civil Court were transferred to the Supreme Court by the Supreme Court Ordinance (24 Vic. No. 15) on 18 June 1861.
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On 9 December 1829, Captain Stirling appointed Justices of the Peace to deal with civil and criminal matters. The greater part of their work was in connection with criminal offences and they held Courts of Petty and Quarter Session as in England. Quarter Sessions were held early in January, April, July and October in each year, the first sitting being in 1830.
The Quarter Sessions Act 1832 conferred on the Court power to hear and determine all felonies and misdemeanors committed in the colony, including forgery and perjury.
The Court of Quarter Sessions first sat in the office of the Deputy Harbour Master at Arthur's Head, Fremantle, and later in another room in Fremantle. It was not until the Courthouse was built in Perth in 1837 that Quarter Sessions were held in the capital.
The Court of Quarter Sessions and the Civil Court of Western Australia were amalgamated into the Supreme Court of Western Australia in 1861.