Introduction to Benches of Magistrates
Functions of the Bench
Cases brought before the Bench of Magistrates concerned ‘breaches of the peace, larcenies of a petty nature, prisoners brought up for neglect of work, and complaints of a trivial nature’ (4). ‘The magistrates’ powers of punishment were never clearly defined in the legislation and letters patent, which instituted the colony’s judicial system. A repertoire of convict punishments developed so that by 1820 colonial magistrates were able to impose extra work on offenders, consign them to the gaol gang, order various forms of imprisonment, or transport ‘incorrigibles’ to penal settlements, but Magistrates were not empowered to lengthen a convicts sentence until 1823 (5)’. For a period ‘Magistrates were directly involved in the management of convict labour, in all its various forms. They controlled the issue and renewal of tickets of leave in their own districts (6) and ‘as the convict assignment system grew, magistrates became increasingly involved in disputes between employers and their convict workers (7)’. In 1828 many of the administrative arrangement concerning the management of convicts, including the preparation of tickets of leave and all correspondence respecting the sentences, disposal and management of convicts, were transferred to the Principle Superintendent of Convicts (8). The Benches of Magistrates throughout the colony continued to try summary offences such as those ‘crimes and misdemeanors not punishable with Death’ and minor offences such as ‘drunkenness, disobedience of orders, neglect of work and disorderly conduct’ (9).
The Bench of Magistrates were replaced by the Courts of Petty Sessions under the terms of Act3 William IV No.3, 24 August 1832 (10).
1.HRA 4.1.920-921, note 83
2.HRA 4.1.913, note 41
3.Golder, Hilary, High and Responsible Office, A history of the NSW Magistracy p.13
8.Mitchell Library A664, P.29 (Colonial Secretary – Magistrate, Argyle)
9.Circular to Magistrates, 30 September 1828 (2/8328, pp.1-3).
10.Courts of Petty Sessions 1832-1982