Agency VA 2870
Licensing Courts
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Date Range: 1836 - 1916
Description of this AgencyDescription of this Agency
General Annual Licensing Meetings

From the time of first permanent settlement in Victoria licences authorising the sale and supply of liquor were granted by justices of the peace at Annual General Licensing Meetings held in June every year. Following the English tradition of heavy control and excise of the licensing trade, over 40 Acts and Statutes were passed by the Victorian legislature between 1852 and the turn of the century.

The Act 3 Wm IV, No.8 (June 1833) provided for a General Meeting of the justices acting in and for each district in the Colony to be held in June each year and to be called the General Annual Licensing Meeting for the special purpose of considering all applications for licences for public houses. Three justices at least were required to be present. The justices were empowered to grant certificates authorising the issue of a licence. These certificates and the fee were then required to be lodged with the office of the Collector of Internal Revenue (Colonial Treasurer, New South Wales) who upon receipt would issue and register the licences.

The Act also established Special General Sessions of the justices for the transferring of licences. All offences under the Act were to be heard at Courts of Quarter Sessions.

The Act 8 Wm IV, No.8 (1837) provided for the application of the 1833 legislation in the newly established Port Phillip District and empowered an officer, to be appointed by the Governor-in-Council, to issue publicans licences in lieu of the Colonial Treasurer in Sydney. The first officer authorised to do so was the Police Magistrate, Port Phillip District, William Lonsdale in September 1837. However by 1839 the Sub-Treasurer had been appointed to issue licences for the Port Phillip District.

The Act regulating the sale and supply of liquor in the Port Phillip District at time of separation in 1851 was 13 Vic.,No.29 (1849). This Act did not substantially alter the liquor licensing law, continuing the system of General Annual Licensing Meetings within each district for the hearing of applications for licences but allowing for a bench of two justices of the peace when a third was unavailable.

The Act provided for three types of licences, a publican's general licence, a packet licence (ship) and a confectioner's licence. The latter licence was confined to the sale of spruce beer and ginger beer. An 1854 Act 17 Vic.,No.24 provided for the registration of spirit merchants. Act 25 Vic.,No.147 (1862) introduced a requirement for distiller's licences, wine grower's and brewer's licences.

Licensing Benches in Courts of Petty Sessions

In 1864, all then existing statutes were repealed and replaced by the Wines, Beer and Spirits Sale Act 1864 27 Vic.,No.227 which first introduced the single bottle or grocer's licence to be held only by a spirit merchant.

This Act abolished the General Annual Licensing Meetings and provided for the granting and transferring of licences to be a judicial proceeding within any sitting of the Court of Petty Sessions within a district.

Under the provisions of the Wines, Beers and Spirits Sale Act 1870 (34Vic.,No.390) the power to grant licences to be issued under the Act within each district was restricted to a Licensing Bench composed of a stipendiary magistrate and two other justices of the peace, nominated by the majority of and from amongst the justices resident within each licensing district. All applications for the granting, renewal, transfer or forfeiture of licences were to be heard by these appointed magistrates.

Quarterly licensing meetings were to be held at each of the courts of petty sessions within a licensing district each year. Magistrate's were bound to give a months notice of the licensing meetings in the Government Gazette.

The Act also allowed a municipal body to object to the granting of a licence in a district where there were already a sufficient number of licensed premises. The Act provided that on such an objection a poll should be taken in the neighbourhood, introducing for the first time the concept of the reduction of liquor licences.

Licensing Courts were also supported, from 1876, by Inspectors of Liquor whose job it was to maintain the standard of liquor sold to the public and to ensure that it was unadulterated and fit for consumption. The position was apparently joined with that of Inspectors of Distilleries (Licensed Premises) and operated within the Trade and Customs area as part of the excise and customs function. In the years 1900 to 1901 when the customs function passed to the Commonwealth (VRG 87) the Inspectors of Liquor were placed under the authority of the Minister of Public Health (VRG 39). The function has apparently remained with the Health portfolio and although there are no Inspectors of Liquor as such post c1978 the duties may possibly still be undertaken as part of the general health investigations area.

District Licensing Courts

The Licensing Act 1885 (40 Vic.,No.857) replaced the previous Licensing Benches with a separate Licensing Court for each licensing district to be constituted by three police magistrates except in the districts of Melbourne, Geelong and Sandhurst (Bendigo) where the chairman of the court was to be a County Court Judge. The Act also subjected licensed premises to the control and supervision of a Licensing Inspector who was empowered both to inspect premises and to give such reports and make orders as would ensure the maintenance of standards. Licensing Inspectors were appointed from the police force by the Governor.

The Licensing Court would send duplicates of all certificates for licenses granted to the Treasurer, who continued to register and issue all liquor licenses. All fees, fines, penalties and forfeitures were to be paid to the Treasurer to be placed in a trust fund called the Licensing Act 1885 Fund which was to be applied to the carrying out of the provisions of the Act.

The Licensing Courts had jurisdiction over all matters relating to:

the granting or refusal of all applications for licences to be issued under the provisions of the Act
the revocation, forfeiture, or cancellation of such licences
the imposition of penalties authorised by the Act
hearings of appeals from inspector's orders
the disqualification of licensed persons and premises.

The 1870 legislation empowered the licensing magistrate to approve or refuse all applications for entertainment licences for licensed premises and required the magistrate to forward lists of all applications to the agency responsible, the Chief Secretary's Department (VA 475).

Liquor Licence Reduction

Provision for the containment and reduction of licences was also introduced in the 1885 legislation. No licences could be granted in a district where the statutory number had been exceeded and where this occurred reduction could be effected by a local option poll. Compensation was to be paid to the owners and licensees of closed hotels out of a compensation fund, entitled the Licensing Fund, revenue for which was derived from fees and fines. Under these provisions 168 local option polls were held at varying intervals. However the system was found to be unwieldy, uncertain and expensive, and so in 1906 the Licences Reduction Board (VA 2906) was constituted to centrally administer this function.

From 1890 onwards the Clerk (in charge) of the Chief Secretary's Department (VA 475) had charge of the business connected with the administration of the Licensing Act.

The district court system for the administration of licensing matters continued until 1916 when the Licensing Court of Victoria (VA 2955) was constituted.

Location of Records

Significant records are in Public Record Office custody, including long runs of Licensing Registers. For records of individual district licensing courts, see also List of Holdings 2nd edition 1985, sections 2.8.0. to 2.256.0 (geographical groupings of courts). For the earlier period see also VRG 7 Police Magistrate Port Phillip District and VRG 4Courts.

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Record series created by this AgencyRecord series created by this Agency
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Date Range Series Title Series Number Series Location Public Access
1874 - 1889 Licensing Court Register of Brewers, Port Fairy VPRS 3359 North Melbourne Open
1879 - 1989 Register of Licence Applications, Warragul VPRS 11058 North Melbourne Open
1883 - 1923 Licensing Court Registers, Port Fairy VPRS 1540 North Melbourne Open
1884 - ? 1964 Licensing Court Registers, Warrnambool (and Other Districts) VPRS 1544 North Melbourne Open
1885 - 1989 Register of Licence Applications, Sale VPRS 670 North Melbourne Open
1886 - 1894 Register of Licence Applications, Rosedale VPRS 11716 North Melbourne Open
1887 - 1912 Register of Licence Applications, Palmerston VPRS 11715 North Melbourne Open
1890 - 1898 Register of Licence Applications, Traralgon VPRS 11718 North Melbourne Open
1907 - 1923 Register of Owners of Licensed Premises, Warragul VPRS 11057 North Melbourne Open
1912 - 1946 Register of Licence Applications, Yarram VPRS 11717 North Melbourne Open
By 1853 - cont Licensing Register - Metropolitan VPRS 7601 North Melbourne Open
By 1886 - ? 1939 Registers of Owners of Licensed Premises - Convictions VPRS 7604 North Melbourne Open
By 1898 - ? 1918 Wine, Spirit and Sundry Licences Registers - Metropolitan and Country VPRS 7596 North Melbourne Open
By 1907 - ? 1933 Register of Owners of Licensed Premises, Foster VPRS 11593 North Melbourne Open
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1836 - 1916 Liquor licences, issue and registration of VF 302
- 1917 Liquor licensing VF 94
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1836 - 1916 Courts VRG 4