The Supreme Court Seal
The Supreme Court Seal is often confused with the Supreme Court emblem or incorrectly referred to as the Court Coat of Arms and the Court Crest.
The true Court Seal is used by the Registry of the Court to seal documents such as warrants, certificates of admission to practise as a barrister and solicitor and probate orders and parchments. The small, round rubber stamp used by various members of the Judiciary and Court staff, is used in accordance with Rule 28.04(1) of the Supreme Court Rules which provides for those judiciary and staff to, "...have in his custody a stamp the design of which shall as near as practicable be the same as the design of the seal of the Court with the addition of..." The Rules then go on to say that marking a document with this stamp is sufficient compliance, where there is a requirement that a document be sealed with the seal of the Court.
The Supreme Court Seal bears a variation of the Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and is inscribed thereon with the words "The Seal of the Supreme Court of the State of Victoria".
Coat of Arms
A "Coat of Arms" is a pictorial identification which historically was a means of identifying "friend" or "foe" during battle. Drawings and designs were used to mark a warrior's shield and sometimes his armour. The term Coat of Arms refers to the custom in the 11th to 15th centuries of displaying the Arms on a tunic or coat worn over armour.
Today a Coat of Arms is still used as a means of identification. It is also a sign of authority and the use of it is strictly limited to the holder. Permission to use a Coat of Arms must be sought from the relevant authority; for example, applications for permission to use the Royal Arms are made to the Official Secretary to the Governor-General.
The Royal Arms were first used by Richard the Lionheart and were modified many times over nine centuries until Queen Victoria succeeded to the throne in 1837. Queen Victoria adopted a simplified form of the Royal Arms which are still in use today by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
A Coat of Arms, often incorrectly referred to as a "Crest", is made up of a number of elements. In the Royal Coat of Arms, the shield shows the various Royal emblems of parts of Britain: the three lions of England in the first and fourth quarters, the lion of Scotland in the second and the harp of Ireland in the third. It is surrounded by a garter bearing the motto Honi soit qui mal y pense (Evil to him who evil thinks), which symbolises the Order of the Garter, an ancient Order of knighthood of which the Queen is Sovereign. The shield is supported by the English lion and the Scottish unicorn and is surmounted by the Royal Crown. Below it appears the motto of the Sovereign Dieu et mon droit (God and my right). The plant badges of the United Kingdom - rose, thistle and shamrock - are often displayed beneath the shield.
A Crest is an accessory to a Coat of Arms. Historically it was an emblem displayed on the helmet of a knight. A Crest appears above the shield or where there is a helmet in the Arms, above the helmet. In the Royal Coat of Arms the Crest is the crowned lion standing on the Royal Crown. The Supreme Court seal does not contain the Royal Crest as it is a symbol used exclusively by the Sovereign. In the Commonwealth Coat of Arms, the Crest is the seven pointed gold star above the shield.
Supporters are the animals, birds or persons appearing on either side of the shield. The lion and the unicorn are the supporters in the Royal Coat of Arms.
The Commonwealth Coat of Arms
King Edward VII made the first official grant of a Coat of Arms to the Commonwealth of Australia by Royal Warrant of 7 May 1908. This Coat of Arms was fairly simple in design and included the Commonwealth star as a symbol of national unity (six of the points represent the six States - the seventh represents the Territories). The Arms however lacked any specific reference to the States and a new design was approved by King George V by Royal Warrant of 19 September 1912. That design included the addition of six 'quarters' to the shield, which represent the six States. It is this Coat of Arms which is used by the Commonwealth today.
In 1915 the Prime Minister Mr Fisher provided guidance for the use of the Commonwealth Coat of Arms. He reminded officials that the Arms were intended to be used whenever it was necessary to denote Commonwealth property and where it was appropriate that such emblems be used.
The Coat of Arms is used by the Commonwealth on buildings, for example Parliament House Canberra and the Federal Courts. It also appears on departmental correspondence, legal tender and official documents such as passports.
The Victorian Coat of Arms
The Victorian Coat of Arms was granted by King George V by Royal Warrant of 6 June 1910. On 28 March 1973, Queen Elizabeth II signed a Royal Warrant which added Victoria's floral emblem, the Pink Heath, to Victoria's Coat of Arms. The Victorian Coat of Arms is used by State Government bodies, but not the Supreme or County Courts.
The Supreme Court Seal
The Supreme Court Seal bears an impression of the Royal Coat of Arms in accordance with the Act which established the Court in 1852 (15 Vic., No 10). That Act was called "An Act to make provision for the better Administration of Justice in the Colony of Victoria".
Section IX of the aforementioned Act stated "That the said Supreme Court of the Colony of Victoria shall be a Court of Record, and shall have and use as occasion may require, a Seal bearing an impression of the Royal Arms of England [sic], having inscribed on a label thereon the words "The Seal of the Supreme Court of the Colony of Victoria; and such Seal shall be delivered by the Lieutenant Governor of the said Colony to and be kept in the custody of the Chief Justice of the said Court".
Section 14 of the Supreme Court Act 1915 changed the wording on the Seal to "The Seal of the Supreme Court of the State of Victoria". Section 14 made some other minor amendments to s.IX of the 1852 Act as did s.76 of the Constitution Act 1975, but the overall meaning and authority as set out in s.IX of the Act remain in force today.
It is interesting to note that s.IX of the 1852 Act went on to say (para-phrased in "plain English"') that any person who forges the seal of or document issuing from the Court or who serves or enforces any such forged process, document etc, shall be guilty of felony; and being convicted thereof, shall be liable to be sentenced at the discretion of the Judge to be worked on the roads of the Colony for a period of between five and ten years; or up to three years' imprisonment. In 1915 the penalty for the said felony became imprisonment with or without hard labour for a term of not more than ten years.
Permission to use the Victorian Coat of Arms was granted by the Protocol and Special Events Branch of the Department of Premier and Cabinet and permission to use the Commonwealth Coat of Arms was granted by the Awards and National Symbols Branch of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.
Supreme Court of Victoria
210 William Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
Tel: 03 9603 6111
Office hours: Mon to Fri: 9.00am - 5.00pm