Moving House – A Brief History of the Supreme Court Buildings (2008)
Criminal and civil sittings of the New South Wales Supreme Court on circuit were held in Brisbane from 1850 to 1856 and, in 1857, a Resident Judge was appointed to Moreton Bay. At separation on 10 December 1859 the only judge in Queensland was a judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, exercising jurisdiction in what had previously been the District of Moreton Bay and was then the colony of Queensland.
The Supreme Court of Queensland was formerly established under the Supreme Court Constitution Amendment Act 1861. Under the provisions of that Act, the Supreme Court of Queensland was to be a court of record to be held at Brisbane and the full powers and legal jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of New South Wales were retrospectively transferred to the Supreme Court of Queensland under the Supreme Court Act 1863.
Interestingly, from the date of separation, official notices, appointments of court officers, and Rules of Court were gazetted under the title “Supreme Court of Queensland” and although the seal of the Moreton Bay Court continued in use until 1861, the Court was referred to as the “Supreme Court of Queensland”. As such, it has been said, “the Acts of 1861 and 1863 simply gave statutory effect to an established political and juridical fact”.
In 1874, the Colonial Architect drew plans for the original building that housed the Court, and construction commenced two years later. The building was officially opened on 6 March 1879. Although photographs of the building are all that survive today, they leave little room for doubt that the first home of the Supreme Court was a magnificent edifice.
In the 1960s, it was decided to replace the original building with a modern multi-story structure but its end was hastened on 1 September 1968 when an arsonist set fire to it with the consequence that much of it was destroyed. This event is the subject of a SCLQ Exhibition currently on display in the Rare Books Precinct on Level 2 of the Complex.
The surviving parts of the building were demolished in October 1976, and the existing Complex was constructed in two stages. The first was built in the 1970s on the western side of the site and housed the Supreme Court alone. Subsequently in the early 1980s the eastern and larger wing of the Complex was opened and the Supreme Court was relocated to this part. The District Court was then relocated from the Central Courts Building in North Quay to the part of the Complex formerly occupied by the Supreme Court.
If construction of the new Supreme and District Courts Complex is completed on schedule in 2011, its opening will coincide with the 150th Anniversary of the Supreme Court.
All photographs have been reproduced with permission from the collection of the Queensland Supreme Court Library.