Court Records

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 historical records date from the 1830s until the 1940s (a small number of Court records extend through to the 1980s). Many Court records, especially for more recent cases, are still retained by the Court where cases were heard.

Supreme Court of WA

Show more

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 that exist for 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 establishment of the Colony and are used to trace forebears for family history, to investigate the history of crime in the State and for solicitors needing files relating to current 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 has a 75 year restricted access period that applies to protect the privacy of persons mentioned in the records. 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:

Appeal Records

To appeal is to call upon a higher court to reconsider the judgement of a lower court. These records include:

Bankruptcy Records

These records are grouped under the Act to which they relate and include:

Civil Records

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:

Conscientious Objectors

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:

Criminal Records

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:

Criminal cases between 1830 and 1941 and that were heard at the Civil Court / Supreme Court are also searchable via The Prosecution Project website (Griffiths University). 

Divorce Records

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:

Naturalisation Records

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: 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

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 and Letters of Administration records are name-searchable on the State Records Office catalogue.

Resident Magistrates

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 on the 3rd floor of the State Library / State Archives.

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.

Other Courthouse Records

Show more

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 Courthouses

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 gold mining 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:

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.

Coroner's Court

Unfortunately, relatively few Coroners' Court records have survived prior to the 1970s.

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.

Page reviewed 2 February 2021