Series VPRS 2170
Court of Petty Sessions/Magistrates' Court Registers
About this Series Related Series Accessing the records in this Series
Date Range: Series ? 1888 - ? 1988
  Series in Custody 1888 - 1988
  Contents 1888 - 1988
Public Access: Open
Location: North Melbourne
Format of Records: Physical/Digital
Agency which created this SeriesAgency which created this Series
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Date Range Agency Title Agency Number
1888 - 1988 Beechworth Courts VA 3073
Agency currently responsible for this SeriesAgency currently responsible for this Series
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Date Range Agency Title Agency Number
1989 - cont Melbourne Courts VA 518
Description of this SeriesDescription of this Series
  • How to use the Records
    Browse or search the records listings for time periods of interest.

    The digitised records in P3 are images of original records held by the Robert O'Hara Burke Museum, Beechworth.

  • Function / Content
    Between 1888 and the mid 1960's most Courts of Petty Sessions created an Index to Convictions. These record the names of persons (in alphabetical order by surname) and the case number and/or date of conviction and will assist researchers in finding entries in these registers. Only persons convicted of criminal charges are included in the index. Civil matters and persons found not guilty are not included. Check the Inventory of Series for this Court to see whether the Public Record Office holds any Indexes to Convictions.**

    The Jurisdiction of Courts of Petty Sessions and Magistrates' Courts

    Courts of Petty Sessions, or Magistrates' Courts as they have been called since 1971, dealt with a very large range of "minor" court matters. Apart from a large number of tribunals, they provide the lowest level of redress in civil and criminal matters, with the County Court, the Supreme Court and various Commonwealth courts hearing and determining more serious criminal cases and larger civil disputes.

    The jurisdiction of Courts of Petty Sessions / Magistrates' Courts has changed, and on the whole increased over time, but has usually included the following types of cases:

    The criminal jurisdiction includes all offences under Summary Offences legislation including traffic offences, minor assault and drug offences, obscene language, trespass. A number of more serious offences known as indictable offences may be tried in either the Petty Sessions/Magistrates' Court or a higher court. These include theft up to a certain value, burglary, indecent assault, offences against prostitution regulation legislation, criminal damage to property, occupational health and safety offences. Committal proceedings are also conducted in Courts of Petty Sessions/Magistrates' Courts in order to determine whether a case involving a more serious offence should proceed to a higher court.

    The civil jurisdiction includes claims for debts arising out of contractual disputes, claims for losses arising out of a breach of duty such as negligence, claims for damages arising out of motor vehicle accidents or assaults and claims for taxes due.

    The licensing jurisdiction has diminished in the twentieth century. At different times it has included the issue of licences for gold buyers, auctioneers, carriers, pawnbrokers, estate agents, commercial agents and sub agents, inquiry agents, hawkers and pedlars. By 1991 the only licences still issued by Magistrates' Courts were for commercial agents and sub-agents and hawkers and pedlars.

    The family law jurisdiction includes matters relating to child support assessment, maintenance, custody, guardianship, access, change of name, marriage of under age persons, property interests of de facto partners and, since 1987, family violence intervention orders. From 1928 until 1958 Courts of Petty Sessions were also responsible for granting adoptions.

    Court Registers

    Successive Justices' Acts and, more recently, Magistrates' Court Acts have required the clerk or registrar of the court to make and keep a register of all convictions, orders and other proceedings of the court. This register is the authoritative record of the court.

    Until about 1888 this record was usually called a Cause List Book and had a slightly different format, since then the term Register has been used.

    Initially most clerks maintained a single sequence of registers for all or most of the court's business. However in the twentieth century some courts have maintained several sequences of registers according to different types of matters dealt with by the court. Typically criminal matters have been registered separately from civil matters, matters relating to traffic offences, licensing applications and various types of civil cases have all been registered separately. Some courts dealing with a large number of criminal cases have maintained separate registers for matters brought to court by summons and by arrest, and some have used separate volumes for each courtroom.

    In addition, from about 1915 onwards courts maintained a separate register for matters under Commonwealth legislation, and when the Children's Court was established in 1906, matters relating to children ceased to be recorded in the main sequences of registers and were entered in Children's Court Registers.

    Where courts have subdivided the registration of cases into several sequences, each has been allocated a different Victorian Public Record Series number and the specific type of register has been included in the series title. The inventory of series for this court lists other types of registers used.


    Registers are generally in a common format, giving details of the case number, the name of the prosecutor or informant (in a criminal matter), complainant (in a civil matter) or applicant (in a licensing matter), the name of the accused or defendant, how the case came to the court (arrest, warrant, summons etc) the fees or court costs accrued, a description of the charge, cause or proceeding, the decision or order and any remarks. The column for remarks was often used to record the payment of fines and fees.

    In order to authenticate entries made in the register the presiding officer(s) of the court signed the register at the end of each day.


    Entries in the volumes were made in chronological order of the date they came before the court and each case received a consecutive number. In the nineteenth century many courts used a system whereby the case number reverted to 1 each day, thus cases were identified by the date of hearing and their number. For most of the twentieth century and until the introduction of "Courtlink" (the computerised case registration and management system used by many Victorian courts) in the late 1980's an annual numbering system was used, thus the case numbering system reverted to 1 at the beginning of each year. This number, allocated at the time of entry in the register (usually a few days before the case), was also annotated onto all documents lodged with the court during the case.

    Related Records

    Other types of registers from this court are listed in the Inventory of Series.

    Several types of warrants, summonses, informations (ie statements by witnesses and parties to the case informing the court about the case) and other documents were also lodged with or created by the court in the course of administering each case. The documents were known as "process" and were placed together to create a case file. In most instances these files have been destroyed about fifteen years after the completion of the case to which they relate.

    1980's: Use of Process to form Register

    In about 1980 many courts ceased to use bound volumes to maintain a court register and began the practice of recording the court's decision on the summons or warrant issued by the court to initiate proceedings. This document was annotated by the presiding Magistrate with his or her decision then filed in case number order with other initiating documents to form a register. Some courts subsequently placed these documents in masonite folders or lever arch files whilst at other courts the court register for this period is simply bundles of papers.

    1990's: Electronic Registration of Court Cases

    In 1988 the Courts Management Division of the Attorney-General's Department commenced introducing a computerised case management system known as "Courtlink". Courtlink was introduced into all courts between 1988 and 1993 and replaced the former manual registers. Courtlink uses one system of case numbering for all Victorian Magistrates' Court Cases. It records the same types of information as previously recorded in the manual registers, and additionally includes several pieces of information used to manage caseflow and enforcement.

  • Recordkeeping System

More research resourcesMore research resources
Indexes and RegistersIndexes and Registers
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Date Range Series Title Series Number
1888 - 1967 Court of Petty Sessions Index to Convictions VPRS 2165
Controlled SeriesControlled Series
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Date Range Series Title Series Number
Previous SeriesPrevious Series
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Transfer Date Series Title Series Number
Subsequent SeriesSubsequent Series
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Transfer Date Series Title Series Number
- 1916 Court of Petty Sessions/Magistrates' Court Commonwealth Registers VPRS 8563
List/s of records in this seriesList/s of records in this series
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Consignment Number Contents Date Range Public Access No. of Units
P0000 1907 - 1950 Open 16
P0001 1950 - 1988 Open 12
P0003 1888 - 1907 Open N/A
Indexes and RegistersIndexes and Registers
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Date Range Series Title Series Number
1888 - 1967 Court of Petty Sessions Index to Convictions VPRS 2165
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