One of the major recommendations of the Bigge Reports was the need for Van Diemen’s Land to have its own court system. The 1823 Act for the Administration of Justice in New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land established Supreme Courts in both jurisdictions. It was a temporary Act, set to operate until 1827 and thereafter it was extended, as well as being amended, by both imperial and colonial legislatures, to ensure continuity in the administration of justice by both courts.
Following the arrival of John Lewes Pedder in Hobart in March 1824, a proclamation was issued by the Lieutenant Governor, William Sorell, announcing Pedder’s appointment as Chief Justice and that on the 10th May the new Supreme Court of Van Diemen’s Land would “enter upon the Exercise of its Jurisdiction according to the full Powers granted by the Royal Charter”. The Provost Marshall then read out the text of the Charter of Justice to the assembled dignitaries, and a 21-gun salute was fired from Mulgrave Battery.
The first sitting on 10 May of the Supreme Court in Van Diemen’s Land preceded that of the New South Wales Supreme Court by seven days, making the Court in Hobart Australia’s oldest continually functioning superior court. The two Charters had been sent on different ships, but both arrived in March 1824, the Guildford in Sydney and the Hibernia in Hobart. Officials in Hobart seem to have been a little quicker off the mark, perhaps because, after 20 years of frustration with inadequate access to justice, they were excited to finally have their own judicial system.
Once the two Supreme Courts created by the third Charter of Justice had been set up in 1824 in New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land, the first Supreme Court (NSW), established under the terms of the Second Charter of Justice, ceased to be.
The new judicial system in Van Diemen’s Land was modelled on the three tiers of the English system: Supreme Court at the top, a Court of Quarter Sessions at the intermediate level, and a Court of Petty Sessions at the base. The Supreme Court had wide jurisdiction, with authority not only over criminal matters, but also in civil and equity matters.
The final and equally important event resulting from the provisions of the Third Charter was a separate Legislative Council for Van Diemen’s Land directly responsible to the Secretary of State in London and no longer a dependency of the Colony of New South Wales. The steps to achieve this were:
- 14 June 1825 – Order in Council pursuant to s44 of Imperial Act 4 Geo IV, c96 separating Van Diemen’s Land from New South Wales;
- 16 July 1825 – Commission of Lieutenant General Ralph Darling as Captain General and Governor in Chief of Van Diemen’s Land, with instructions to create an Executive Council and the necessary powers required to govern the Island; in his absence from the Island, administration devolved on Lieutenant Governor Arthur;
- 17 July 1825 – Warrant by His Majesty King George IV making Van Diemen’s Land a separate colony with its own governing body consisting of six members (Chief Justice, Colonial Secretary and four non-official members) with the Lieutenant Governor as President. An Executive Council (Lieutenant Governor, Chief Justice, Colonial Secretary and two other members, Superintendent of Police and Colonial Treasurer) was also appointed;
- 3 December 1825 – Proclamation by the Governor of the Colony, Sir Ralph Darling, in Hobart Town confirming separation of Van Diemen’s Land from New South Wales;
- 5 December 1825 – Governor Darling departs;
- 17 December – Proclamation in the Hobart Town Gazette by Lieutenant Governor Arthur notifying his powers to Act in the absence of Darling who left his Commission with Arthur;
- 12 April – first meeting of Legislative Council; and
- 1 August 1826 – first Act passed by the Council.
Van Diemen’s Land was now a Colony in its own right, with its own courts and government, enacting its own legislation, as well having the capacity to interpret this legislation in its courts. The Chief Justice, however, retained the right to declare legislation repugnant to the Laws of England, as did the Colonial Office.
For additional information see Tasmanian Statutes 1826-1959 volume 6 and Founding Documents.