Supreme Court of Western Australia

History of the Court System in Western Australia

With the proclamation of the Swan River Settlement in June 1829 and the appointment of Captain James Stirling as Lieutenant Governor of the colony, the foundation of the Western Australian court system was established.

During the first months of the colony, Stirling was the sole arbitrator on civil rights and legal matters.

At the end of 1829, Stirling appointed a magistracy, consisting of justices of the peace, to deal with the growing amount of petty crime and drunkenness.

These justices presided over both the Courts of Petty Session (dealing with minor offences) and Courts of Quarter Session (dealing with serious offences).

Stirling continued to be the arbitrator in the Civil Court until 1832 when a Commissioner was appointed.

The Court of Quarter Sessions and Civil Court were amalgamated in 1861 to form the Supreme Court.

In 1886 the Full Court of the Supreme Court was established to deal with both civil and criminal appeals.

In 1893 a Court of Appeal from courts of summary jurisdiction was established, presided over by a judge of the Supreme Court. The Court of Criminal Appeal was constituted in 1911.

As the population increased, pressure and work demands on the Supreme Court grew. An intermediate court level, the District Court, was introduced in 1970.

In 1976 matrimonial causes and the adoption jurisdiction were transferred to the newly formed Family Court of Western Australia.

In 2005, the Court of Appeal was established as a Division of the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court building in Stirling Gardens, Perth, was built in 1903 and is classified by the National Trust. The present building was added to in 1960 and a new wing was constructed in 1986/87.

The Supreme Court precinct has an important role in Western Australia's history. One of the first courthouses in the state was built at this location in 1836. The courthouse - adjacent to the present Supreme Court - remains standing and is now used as the Francis Burt Law Education Centre.

The Supreme Court’s General Division moved in July 2016 to the David Malcolm Justice Centre on Barrack Street, Perth.

Last updated: 1-May-2019

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