- 1860-01-01 - 1887-01-01 (Creation)
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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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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.
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Returns of prisoners committed for trial at the Supreme Court. The returns were sent to the Court initially by the Comptroller of convicts and later they were sent from Perth Gaol.
The returns list the men accused with their registration number, if they have been transported, or status (Aboriginal native, free, expiree etc) and often for transported convicts the ship on which they arrived in WA, the offence they were charged with, their number on the criminal calendar, the district they were from, date of committal.
There is often a second return for the same date showing previous convictions.
The first return lists persons committed for trail from 1.1.1860 to 31.12.1861; they are listed in order of district for 1860 then 1861.
The returns are in chronological order, the date of the return often being the date of the trial at the Supreme Court.
It is thought that later returns were sent to the Supreme Court with the convict conduct forms (WAS 252). For details of the trial consult criminal registers (WAS 49) and criminal indictment files (WAS 122).