The New South Wales Act, Act 4 Geo. IV c.96 (1823) provided for the establishment of Courts of Requests in various parts of New South Wales to have jurisdiction in "Actions, Plaints and Suits for the Payment or Recovery of any Debt, Damages or Matter" not exceeding £10." The Courts of Request heard cases beyond this financial limit where the claims concerned "Title to any Lands, Tenements or Hereditaments" or duties payable to the Crown, for any Fee of Office, annual rent, general right or duty." In such cases the decision of the Court was final and execution of the judgment was to be by sale of the goods and effects or imprisonment of the party. This Court was presided over by a Commissioner appointed by the Governor or Acting Governor.
The initial Courts of Request were continued as "Provisional Courts of Requests" in 1829 through An Act to provide for the holding of Courts of Requests in New South Wales until further provision shall be made for such purpose, 1829 (10 Geo. IV Act No. 2).
In September 1829 Courts of Requests were established in the districts of Sydney, Windsor, Campbelltown, Parramatta , Maitland and Bathurst by An Act for instituting Courts of Civil Jurisdiction to be called Courts of Requests in different parts of New South Wales, 1829 (10 Geo. IV Act No.3).
The Courts of Requests were reformed in An Act for better regulating Courts of Requests in Colony of New South Wales, 1832 (3 Will. IV, Act No.2) Courts of Requests were to be held at the towns of Sydney, Parramatta, Liverpool, Penrith, Windsor, Campbelltown, Camden, Wollongong, Bong Bong, Berrima, Bathurst, and Maitland. (1) "Menial servants, clerk book-keepers, journeymen, shopmen, shopwomen, labourers, or other persons" under the age of 21 years could now bring a lawsuit against their employers for unpaid wages. (2) The jurisdiction of the Courts of Requests was also extended to the Attorneys and Solicitors of the Supreme Court. (3) Lawsuits were to be heard in the Court closest to a defendant's residence while any levy on a defendant's goods could only be made between sunrise and sunset. (4) However, no "execution awarded against the goods of a party" was to prejudice the interest of a landlord. (5) In terms of the Courts' proceedings litigants were prevented from using lawyers or other agents. Plaintiffs and defendants were required to attend the Court in person except in cases of "unavoidable necessity". Only then was it possible for a litigant to have someone else appear or act for him. (6)
Further Courts of Requests were created by An Act to establish Courts of Requests at the Towns of Melbourne and Port Macquarie in the Colony of New South Wales, 1839 (3 Vic., Act No. 6).
The existing Request Acts were repealed by "An Act to consolidate and amend the Law relating to Courts of Requests, and to extend the Jurisdiction of such Courts in the County of Cumberland" Act, 1842 ( 6 Vic., Act No. 15). The Commissioner of the Courts of Requests in the County of Cumberland, with the assistance of two assessors, could decide cases where the amount did not exceed £30 with the consent of the parties. Throughout the rest of the Colony the Courts of Requests cases were still limited to amounts not exceeding £10. Their jurisdiction now encompassed actions relating to the recovery of debts, damages, unfinished work, unpaid wages, rent, use of money, accounts, bills of exchange, promissory notes, trespass, and trover (the finding and wrongful use of another's goods). There were, however, certain exceptions where the Courts of Request could not hear and determine matters, these included -
a) questions concerning title to any real property (unless granted leave by the Attorney General)
b) duty payable to the Crown, for any Fee of Office, annual rent, general right or duty
c) any debts resulting from horse races, cock match wagers, or play of any kind
The Commissioner of a Court of Requests could - order prosecutions for perjury; order payment by instalments in certain cases or suspend or prohibit attorneys who had acted corruptly from practicing in his Court (the attorney had a right of appeal to the Supreme Court)
The Sheriff and keeper of any prison were indemnified from legal action when carrying the orders of a Court of Request.
In 1843 the provision was made for the Court of Requests in Sydney to deal with matters such as road accidents, assault, the destruction of fences and the injuries caused to land and cattle. (7)
An Act to amend the Law respecting the recovery of small Debts in all parts of the Colony, 1846 (10 Vic., Act No.10 ) which took effect from 1 January, 1847 abolished Courts of Requests outside the County of Cumberland. In their place Courts of Petty Sessions were to hear and determine any civil claims for amounts up to £10 (or £30 if all parties consented). New South Wales relinquished responsibility for the Courts of Requests in Melbourne and the County of Bourke (within the Port Phillip District) with the establishment of the Colony of Victoria in 1851. The Sydney Court of Requests was abolished when new District Courts were created by An Act for establishing District Courts and for enabling the Judges thereof to act as Chairmen of Quarter Sessions, 1858, (22 Vic., Act No. 18).
The District Courts Act of 1858, however, contained a number of discrepancies where under certain sections the new Court's jurisdiction was limited to £100 instead of £200. While the Court of Requests in Sydney no longer operated the Office of the Court of Requests in Sydney continued to accept plaints and fees. The workings of this last branch of the Court of Requests ended in 1859 with the District Courts Amendment Act 1858 (22 Vic, Act No 25) (which received assent on 9 April 1859) which standardised the District Court's jurisdiction, and an Executive Council order (27 April 1859) to repay the fees collected. (8)
Parramatta Court of Requests was in operation by 5 December, 1827 when Registrar James Orr was appointed. (9)
(1) "An Act for better regulating Courts of Requests in Colony of New South Wales" 3 Will. IV, No.2 1832 Section 2.
(2) Ibid. Section 8.
(3) Ibid. Section 9.
(4) Ibid. Section 21.
(5) Ibid. Section 22.
(6) Ibid. Section 23.
(7) Castles Alex C., An Australian Legal History, The Law Book Company Limited, Sydney 1982, page 210.
(8) Holt, H.T.E., A Court Rises: The lives and times of the Judges of the District Court of New South Wales (1859-1959), The Law Foundation of New South Wales, Sydney, 1976, pp. 14-15.
(9) Returns of the Colony 1827 (4/255) p.54.