A significant component of the State Records Office collection is comprised of historical records created by the various Western Australian legal courts. The State Records Office holds court records from:
- The Supreme Court of WA
- Resident Magistrates
- Other Courthouses - over 100 courthouses located throughout the metropolitan and country areas of Western Australia. These include Police Courts, Local Courts, Licensing Courts, Coroners' Courts and Children's Courts.
Most of these hisorical records date from the 1830s until the 1940s, with some dating up to the 1970s and 1980s. For more recent records it is necessary to contact the relevant court that created them.
The records of the Supreme Court of Western Australia are the most extensive collection of court records held by the State Records Office. These are among the most important documents extant in Western Australia, constituting the foundation of the State's legal system and providing a unique source of information on the social, political and economic development of the State. The records date from the cradle days of the Colony and are in great demand for a variety of reasons, from those tracing forebears for the family tree, to researchers investigating the history of crime in the State, to solicitors needing files relating to their cases.
The Supreme Court was created in 1861 as the result of the amalgamation of the Court of General Quarter Sessions and the Civil Court of Western Australia. Consequently, many of the records of the earlier Court of General Quarter Sessions, which had been established in 1829, passed to the Supreme Court and can still be found amongst its records.
NOTE: Most Supreme Court records are covered by a 75 year restricted access period to protect the privacy of persons mentioned in the records (i.e. records that were created less than 75 years ago are on restricted access). Clients who wish to view restricted access records must obtain written permission from the Supreme Court. Please see the Accessing Restricted Records section for information on how to apply for access to restricted records.
The main categories of Supreme Court records held by the State Records Office are:
To appeal is to call upon a higher court to reconsider the judgement of a lower court. These records include:
- Cause Lists of Appeals, 1919-1940, Series 189, Consignment 3593
- Appeals Files, 1867-1945, Series 202, Consignments 3677, 4491 & 5679
- Register - Appeals from other Courts, 1903-1931, Series 190, Consignment 3594
These records are grouped under the Act to which they relate and include:
- Insolvency Files, 1858-1871, Series 52, Consignment 3429
- Bankruptcy Files (under various Bankruptcy Acts), 1871-1928, Series 54 & 165-166, Consignments 3431, 3560-3561 & 3622
In contrast with criminal law, a breach of a civil law duty or obligation is not punishable by prosecution. Instead, the aggrieved party may take private action to protect their rights or may sue for damages.
Prior to 1861 matters of civil law were dealt with by the Civil Court of Western Australia, which had been established in 1832. Following the proclamation of the Supreme Court Ordinance in 1861 the functions and records of the Civil Court were transferred to the newly created Supreme Court
The main series of records include:
- Cause Books, 1881-1946, Series 185, Consignment 3548
- Files - Civil Writs, 1832-1945, Series 201, Consignment 3580
Contain warrants, writs, affidavits and other documents relating to matters such as divorce, bankruptcy, probate and administration, and other civil cases.
- Registers - Actions Remitted from Local Courts, 1931-1955, Series 163, Consignment 3569
Conscientious objectors initially applied to the army for exemption from military service. If this application was rejected, then they could apply through the Local Court for exemption. Should the applicant be denied they could appeal to the Supreme Court of the State in which they resided. These records cover World Wars I and II and the Korean War. They comprise:
- Register of Applications for Exemption from Military Services, 1916-1955, Series 121, Consignment 3639
- Conscientious Objectors Files, 1916-1955, Series 125, Consignments 3503 & 3620
Conscientious Objectors' files typically contain a Notice of Appeal from the decision of a Court of Summary Jurisdiction, an Order of the Court, an Evidence Statement, the schedule, correspondence and other associated items such as newspaper clippings.
The Supreme Court deals with serious indictable offences that breach State laws. The following are examples of Supreme Court records relating to criminal cases held by the Records Office:
- Records of Conviction, 1866-1909, Series 272, Cons 3663-3664
- Registers - Criminal Record Books, 1830-1982, Series 49, Consignment 3422 & 4332
Covers sittings in Perth as well as country centres.
- Criminal Indictment Files, 1830-1974, WAS 122.
The Supreme Court of Western Australia was given jurisdiction in matrimonial causes by the Divorce and Matrimonial Causes Act of 1863. The Supreme Court did not relinquish responsibility in this area until after the State Family Court Act of 1976 came into effect. The records include;
- Register of Maintenance Order, 1947-1966, Series 197, Consignment 3573
- Divorce Registers, 1864-1976, Series 40,
- Divorce Files, 1864-1977, Series 35,
Divorce files consist of petitions, counter-petitions, affidavits, notice of decrees and related documents. Records beyond this period are held by the Family Court of Western Australia
See also further information on accessing Supreme Court divorce records.
Liens on Wool
The preferable lien on wool was devised as a means of solving the difficulty of interim finance for pastoralists whose income came from their only asset, and then only once a year. It provided farmers with the means of borrowing against the stock itself or against the anticipated woolclip of the season.
Prior to 1871 naturalisation was effected by separate and individual Acts of the Legislative Council. The Naturalisation Act of 1871 (35 Vic. No. 2) provided for the naturalisation of non-British subjects. After 1903 naturalisation was transferred to Commonwealth jurisdiction. The State Records Office holds the following naturalisation records for the Supreme Court:
- Naturalisation Certificates, 1871-1903, Series 61, Consignment 3442
The certificates verify that the applicant had addressed a memorial to the Governor, "stating his age, occupation, and the duration of residence" in the Colony. The memorials were considered by the Legislative Council and certificates were duly issued by the Colonial Secretary, who forwarded them to the Supreme Court. The certificates show the name of the naturalised subject and the person's country of origin.
- Naturalisation Registers, 1871-1903, Cons 3441, WAS 60
See also further information on naturalisation records.
Under the Newspaper Libel and Registration Act, 1884 and the Amendment Act 1888, provision is made for the registration of Newspaper Proprietors under the superintendence of the Registrar of the Supreme Court. Registration had to take place on or before 14 January 1885 and thereafter annually. The applicant registered the title of the newspaper, the names of proprietors, their occupations, places of business and places of residence.
Grants of Probate (Wills) and Letters of Administration
Until 1832 there were no legal means of dealing with the estates of deceased persons in Western Australia. The estates of those who died in the Colony between 1829 and 1831 were administered in Britain, were settled informally, or were settled later. In 1832, jurisdiction for the administration of estates was vested in the newly established Civil Court of Western Australia and in 1861 jurisdiction was transferred to the Supreme Court. The State Records Office holds the Grants of Probate and Letters of Administration for the period 1832-1947. It is important to distinguish between the two. A Grant of Probate is the official proving of a Will. A Letter of Administration is the document issued when a person dies without a will (intestate) or where the executors cannot carry out their duties. The files associated with Probate and Administration are amongst the most heavily accessed of archival records, and are essential documents for anyone researching their family history.
- Probate (Wills) and Administration Indexes, 1832-1993, Series 55 & 1766, Consignments 3435 & 5269 [microfiche]
The State Records Office holds two microfiche indexes of wills and letters of administration. These alphabetical indexes provide the will or letter of administration number required to locate the relevant probate or administration file.
- Registers - Grants of Letters of Administration, 1832-1947, Series 57, Consignment 3437
- Registers - Grants of Probate, 1832-1947, Series 56, Consignment 3436
- Administration Files, 1832-1947, Series 59, Consignment 3458
The Administration files typically contain a copy of the death certificate, an application for Grants of Letters of Administration, affidavit verifying the deceased's assets and liabilities, Administration Bond and sometimes other documents such as marriage or birth certificates lodged in order to satisfy the Court as to the dependant's claim to administer the estate.
- Probate Files, 1832-1947, Series 34, Consignment 3403
The Probate files typically contain copies of Wills, applications for Grants of Probate, copies of Death Certificates, statements of testator's assets and liabilities and related documents.
See also further information on accessing probate and administration records.
In 1990 the staff of the State Records Office compiled and published Order In The Court: A Guide to the Records of the Supreme Court of Western Australia. This publication provides a detailed guide to the main categories of Supreme Court records outlined above and is available for use in the State Records Office Search Room.
Following colonisation, Resident Magistrates (also known as Police Magistrates and Government Residents) were established in key areas of the State in the 1800's to officiate in legal and administrative matters. As well as acting as the Magistrate for the Local Court, the Court of Petty Sessions and the Licensing Court, Resident Magistrates were often required to conduct other functions such as Electoral Registrar, Collector of Customs and Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages. These functions were eventually passed to other government agents. The responsibility of customs, for example, was transferred to the Commonwealth soon after Federation in 1901. Court functions were taken over by Clerk of Courts and Resident Magistrates were effectively abolished by 1910.
A substantial amount of information about the various Resident Magistrates can be gleaned from their correspondence to and from the Colonial Secretary's Office. Indexes to this correspondence are kept in the State Records Office Search Room.
Records relating to various Resident Magistrates may also be located through the listings at the hardcopy AN 17 finding aid available at the State Records Office or online under the name of the required Magistrate's district. The State Records Office holds discrete collections of records that were created by Resident Magistrates for the following areas: Albany, Augusta/Vasse, Busselton, Cue, Camden Harbour and Roebourne.
It should also be noted that Police Magistrate records may in some cases be located through the police records in the hardcopy AN 5 finding aid available at the State Records Office or through the online catalogue under the name of the local police station.
Some examples of the types of records held within these collections include:
- Resident Magistrate - Albany, Customs and Revenue Ledgers, 1858-1865, Series 1682, Consignment 346
- Resident Magistrate - Albany, Land Applications - Deeds and Licences, 1855-1879, Series 1684, Consignment 346, Items 179-181
Completed forms relating to the issue of title deeds and pastoral leases and licences and the sale of Crown land.
- Resident Magistrate - Augusta & Vasse, Letterbook, 1830-1841, Acc 3043, Items 1-3, AN 543
- Resident Magistrate - Busselton, Election Records, 1873-1890, Series 1592, Consignment 594, Items 4/1 & 4/7
Relating to district Board of Education for the District of Sussex and Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council.
- Perth Police Magistrate, Electoral Rolls, 1868, 1880-1895, Acc 1386 & 3300, AN 17/PER
The Resident Magistrate acted as the Electoral Registrar for the Perth area during this time.
- Perth Police Magistrate, Registers - Convicts (Ticket of Leave Men), 1850-1887, Acc 1386, AN 17/PER
- Resident Magistrate - Roebourne, Occurrence Books, 1866-1883, Series 1751, Consignment 194, Items, 1-24
- Resident Magistrate - Wyndham, Notebook, 1906-1920, Acc 742, Item 5, AN 17/WYN
Other Courthouse Records
The State Records Office holds records from over 100 courthouses located throughout the metropolitan and country areas of Western Australia. These include records of Police Courts, Local Courts, Licensing Courts, Coroners' Courts and Children's Courts.
The types of records created by these Courts include plaint files, correspondence, minute books, evidence books, summonses, licence registers, charge books and execution books to name a few.
NOTE: Restricted access conditions apply to certain Court records. Please see the Accessing Restricted Records section for information on how to apply for access to restricted records.
Metropolitan Courthouse records held by the State Records Office can be traced through the listings in the hardcopy AN 17 finding aid available at the State Records Office or online under the name of the required court.
The following are selected examples of the types of lower court records available for the metropolitan area.
- Perth Licensing Court, Licensing Registers, 1924-75, Acc 3319, Items 17-20, AN 18
Lists licensing district, applicant, locality, nature of licence and decision of the court.
- Perth Local Court, Plaints and Minutes, 1864-1971, AN 17 (pre 1914) & Series 1385 (post 1914)
- Perth Police Court, Applications - Bastardy Laws Act, 1881-1916, Consignment 3296, AN 17
Applications from single mothers seeking child support.
- Perth Police Court, Charge Books, 1853-1917, Consignment 1386, 1052, & 3146, AN 17
- Perth Police Court, Licenses (Liquor and Trade), 1859-1906, Consignment 3294, AN 17
- Fremantle Court of Petty Sessions, Evidence Books, 1911-1923, Acc 2952, AN 17
- Guildford Court House, Jury List, 1889-1902, Acc 1438, Item 3, AN 17
Regional Court Houses
The State Records Office holds records from a number of regional courthouses located throughout the State. Records which may prove especially useful are the Minutes of Evidence of the Police Court, Local Court, Court of Petty Sessions and the Court of Quarter Sessions, which can provide information on the trials of criminals for a variety of offences.
Also useful are the records of the various Licensing Courts which provide information on people applying for different types of licenses such as liquor, sandalwood, timber, dog, cart, billiards, confectioners, board and lodging, firewood, pawnbroker, hawkers, pearling, etc. In the court records can also be found plaints, which are kept for many courthouses and some mining warden records relating to goldmining and other leases.
Regional courthouse records held by the State Records Office can be traced through the court record listings in the hardcopy AN 17 finding aid available at the State Records Office or through searching under the name of the required court.
Please Note: The State Records Office does not hold records from every regional courthouse in the State.
Selected examples of regional courthouse records held by the State Records Office include the following:
- Albany Courthouse, Reports - Coronial Inquests, 1864-1875, Series 1646, Consignment 348, Items 131-134
- Bridgetown Clerk of Courts, Letterbook - Outward Letters, 1902-1903, Series 1370, Consignment 5060
- Broome Courthouse, Pearl Dealers' Licenses Register, Resident Magistrate, 1913-1960, Acc 1352, Item 42, AN 17/BRO
- Laverton Licensing Court, Evidence Book, 1911-1922, Acc 1289, Items 25, AN 17 LAV
- Narrogin Courthouse, Employer's Register, 1910-1940, Acc 1103, Item 6, AN 17/NAR
- Roebourne Court of Petty Sessions, Minutes of Evidence, 1893-1917, Acc 913, Items 15-20, AN 17/ROE
- Toodyay Courthouse, Ticket of Leave Registers, 1862-1870, Acc 127, Item 5, AN 17/TOO
- York Police Court, Minute Books, 1893-1910, Acc 1086, Items 11-14, AN 17/YOR
Perth Children's Court
The Perth Children's Court was originally set up under the State Children's Act 1907 and operated within the City of Perth precinct. Subsequent amendment allowed the Court to sit in other designated areas in the metropolitan area.
The Perth Children's Court became the Children's Court of WA with the passing of the Act of the same name in 1988.
See also records relating to the Perth Children's Court.
NOTE: Restricted access conditions currently apply to all Children's Court records. Please see the Accessing Restricted Records section for information on how to apply for access to restricted records.
Unfortunately, relatively few Coroners' Court records have survived the last century.
Coronial inquests that have survived can generally be located through the records of the relevant local court house or local police station that have been transferred to the State Records Office. Coroner's reports contained in court records often include evidence given by various witnesses along with the verdict reached.
State Records Office staff at the Enquiry Desk can provide additional information on the range of court related records available from within the State Records Office collection. For more information contact us by telephone on (08) 9427 3600, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or in person.