High Court of Australia – Fact sheet 221

History of the High Court

The High Court of Australia was formally established in 1901 under section 71 of the Australian Constitution. Its role is to interpret and apply the laws of Australia, to decide cases of federal significance, and to hear appeals from federal, state, and territory courts. While the High Court is the highest avenue of appeal in Australia, further appeals could be made to the Privy Council in Britain until 1975.

Following the passage of the Judiciary Act 1903 the first appointments were made to the High Court bench:

  • Chief Justice Samuel Griffith, former Premier (1883–88) and former Chief Justice (1893–1903) of Queensland
  • Justice Edmund Barton, former Prime Minister of Australia (1901–03)
  • Justice Richard Edward O’Connor, former Minister of Justice and Solicitor-General of New South Wales (1891–1903) and former Senator (1901–03)

By 1906, the High Court had become established as a viable, effective and necessary part of the Australian judicial system. The increasing demands on the High Court led to the number of justices being increased to five in 1906, and then to seven in 1913. The primary registry of the High Court was initially located in Melbourne, and from 1973 in Sydney. When the High Court building was finished in 1980 the administration was transferred to Canberra.

Records about the High Court

Records held by the Archives about the High Court date from 1901, and include judges’ notebooks, correspondence between High Court members, reports on issues involving the High Court, records of Court judgements and a range of images of the High Court. A selection of records created by the High Court, and records created by other Commonwealth departments and agencies about the High Court, are listed below.

To identify other records about the High Court, search the collection.

Access to records of the High Court

Unlike most Commonwealth government records, the records of the High Court are only subject to the access provisions of the Archives Act under conditions agreed between the Court and the National Archives. Arrangements agreed in 1996 permit access to most records of the Court transferred to National Archives custody, including those listed below.

Inquiries relating to records still in the custody of the Court should be directed:

Registry Manager of the High Court
PO Box 6309
Kingston ACT 2604

Records created by the High Court

Correspondence registers

Case records

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesFull court case records (Victoria); Court and Cause case records (1973–80)1903–80A10074
SeriesCourt Book case records (Victoria)1907–73A10117

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2017