Building - History
The present Supreme Court building
Towards the end of 1872, the Victorian Government decided that new Law Courts should be built on the South-East corner of William and Lonsdale Streets, Melbourne, a site previously used for government offices. The Public Works Department conducted a competition for the design: that prepared by the Melbourne architects A.L. Smith and A.E. Johnson was held to be the best. Their design was first placed on public view in May 1873.
The foundations of the new building were put in by the contractor Samuel Amess in 1874-1875; and the contract for its erection, by the builders Pearson & Downie, was dated 18 April 1877. Construction was supervised by J.J. Clark and Peter Kerr, architects in the Public Works Department. The new building, known for many years as 'the Law Courts' was ready for occupation in February 1884.
Chambers for the Chief Justice and the four Puisne Judges of 1884 were provided along the William Street frontage, behind the colonnade on the first floor. The offices of the Master in Equity and the Sheriff were below them, on the ground floor, and the offices of the Prothonotary were on the first floor, overlooking the laneway running along the Eastern side of the building. Chambers for the County Court and the Court of Insolvency, and the offices serving those courts, were also at the Eastern end of the building.
Initially, eight courtrooms were provided: four 'angle' courts, one at each corner of the square building, and four 'lateral' courts, two along Lonsdale Street and two along Little Bourke Street. With one exception, each of these courts was on the ground floor and extended upwards through the first floor. The exception was the original Practice Court, only one storey in height and on the first floor at the South-West corner of the building, close to the Judges' Chambers. This is now the 13th Court, a showpiece of 19th century architecture and 21st century technology.
In later years, another eight courts have been created in the building, four of them by knocking together adjacent offices and four others constructed during the 1950s by extensions into the courtyard. In the same period, additional chambers and offices were constructed on the first floor, along the Northern and Southern corridors and facing inwards to the courtyard.
Since the County Court moved to premises of its own in 1969, the Supreme Court has been in sole occupation of the 1884 building. In 1977, the Court took over the building next door in Lonsdale Street, built in 1892-1893 for the Crown Law Offices, and now devoted to the Court of Appeal. More recently, it took over the building next door in Little Bourke Street, built in 1928 for the High Court of Australia, extended in 1935 and occupied by the High Court until 1982 and then until 1999 by the Federal Court of Australia. There are three courtrooms in the Court of Appeal building and three more in the Old High Court.
Also outside the original building, and in commercial premises across Lonsdale Street (Melbourne), are the offices of the Masters of the Supreme Court, the Prothonotary and the Registrar of Probates. The Juries Commissioner is housed in the new (May 2002) County Court building on the corner of Williams and Lonsdale Streets (Melbourne).
In the centre of the courtyard, under the dome, is the Supreme Court Library, with its collection of about 100,000 books financed by compulsory contributions from entrants to the legal profession and by government grants. The elegant interior of the Library is enhanced by portraits of the Chief Justices and some other Judges of the Court.
Acknowledgement is made to the La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria for granting permission to the Supreme Court of Victoria to use the above photos from the State Library's collection.
Supreme Court of Victoria
210 William Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
Tel: 03 9603 6111
Office hours: Mon to Fri: 9.00am - 5.00pm