South Australia History

South Australia is the only state in Australia that did not begin as a convict colony. Despite this proud fact, the appointment of the first Sheriff, Samuel Smart, was linked to the convict colony of Van Diemens Land. The South Australian Governor appointed Smart, a solicitor, in May, 1837. Prior to his appointment, several Van Diemen’s Land convicts had escaped and were committing outrages in South Australia. These convicts were know to Smart. The apprehension of these convicts and the fact that Smart knew them, were significant factors in the Governor’s decision to appoint a Sheriff in South Australia (see reference to this in the section entitled, ‘The Sheriff and Capital Punishment’).

Smart formed part of a judicial ‘team’ to establish a separate legal authority in the colony: he was accompanied by Sir John William Jeffcott, who was to become the first judge. Smart was appointed for a year only, the position to be reviewed annually by the judge, with the consent of the Governor.

At Annexure (i) is a copy of the Gazette notifying relevant Acts and Appointment including the appointment of the first judge and Sheriff for the Province of South Australia.

The origin of the Office in South Australia is notable for its creation from within the colony, rather than through a specific transfer of the position from England by means of a Colonial Office appointment and significant continuing Colonial Office control. As was observed in the study of the office in New South Wales, this transfer bestowed an English legacy on the position that was not always helpful given the peculiar conditions of a convict colony.

The Sheriff’s Office was established by the Supreme Court Act of 1837, which provided that the Court should have ministerial and other officers as might be necessary for the administration of justice in the Court and for the execution of its judgments and other orders. The Office persisted under these vaguely defined guidelines until an ordinance was passed, regulating the appointment of the Sheriff and his duties.

The Sheriff’s duties were extended in 1856 to allow him to act as returning officer for the colony, and as such he conducted elections after the introduction of responsible government.

From 1870, the Sheriff was accorded the responsibility of all gaols and the custody of all imprisoned debtors and criminals. This responsibility remained with the Sheriff until July, 1965, when the Sheriff’s Gaols and Prisons Department was discontinued. The creation of the new prisons department and the appointment of a permanent head for that department relieved the Sheriff of substantial responsibility.

The Office of the Sheriff presently forms a part of the Court Services Department. The Sheriff performs not only his statutory duties, but is also a member of the Executive Management of the Department, which concerns itself with the administrative and policy making decisions of the Department.

The Sheriff has a number of important traditional responsibilities in relation to criminal sittings. The Sheriff provides jury panels for the criminal sessions of the Supreme and District Court, which courts sit at Adelaide, Port Augusta and Mount Gambier. The production of prisoners to these courts is a responsibility retained by the Sheriff’s Office, despite there now being a separate prisons department. The Court Services Department’s central court complex, the Sir Samuel Way building, possesses a basement cell complex staffed by officers of the Correctional Services Department. These officers are administratively responsible to that Department, but take their day to day directions from the Sheriff.

Other functions performed by the Sheriff with respect to criminal sittings are:

  • the preparation of criminal sitting calendars containing details of all accused persons require to appear each month
  • the payment of fees for the attendance of all witnesses
  • the recording and enforcement of all sentences
  • the receipt of all fines, costs and orders for restitution and the subsequent recovery of unpaid amounts
  • the arrangement of jury views at criminal trials

The Sheriff’s Office performs an increasingly important role in the provision of security in the State’s courts. The size of the central criminal court complex in the Sir Samuel Way building demands significant security measures. The Sheriff’s Office is responsible for all emergency procedures and the security of the building itself. A similar security service is provided to the old Supreme Court Building and the Adelaide Magistrates’ Court. A consultancy service is also provided to the Department. The redevelopment of other courts throughout the state will require an increased security resource to be provided by the Sheriff’s Office.

Sheriff’s Officers are also employed to provide a court orderly service to the criminal sittings of the Supreme and District courts. These Officers keep order in the courtroom and attend to the needs of jurors and witnesses. This service is also provided to Adelaide magistrates’ courts and country centres throughout the State.

The Sheriff presently provides a bailiff system for the service of civil processes issued from interstate, overseas and certain documents issued from South Australian courts, including the execution of civil warrants of the Supreme Court. Where it is necessary to satisfy a court order, the Sheriff may be required to arrange for the sale of goods and property and obtain possession of land. Legislation will shortly be introduced to provide for the Sheriff’s execution of all civil processes throughout the State. Sheriff’s Officers will be employed as full time – 25 – bailiffs. This will give South Australia a single bailiff system, thereby significantly extending the Sheriff’s responsibilities for the execution of orders of the courts’ civil jurisdiction.

The Sheriff in South Australia functions as Marshal in the Admiralty Division of the Supreme Court and the Federal Court. The first of these functions gives the Sheriff the curious responsibility of arresting ships if the court so orders. Such orders may relate to debts for essential provisions and bunker fuel for ships. Where the Court orders that the debt must be satisfied by the sale of the ship and/or cargo, the Marshal will arrange this sale.

The Sheriff also functions as Deputy Sheriff of the Federal Court and executes processes issued by that Court. The office presently employs thirty five permanent officers and eighty casual personnel. Approximately seventy bailiffs are employed each month throughout the state for the service and execution of processes.

The incumbents of the office of Sheriff have been:-

  • Samuel Smart «‹›» 1837
  • Charles Christian Dutton «‹›» 1838
  • Charles Burton Newenham «‹›» 1839 – 1856
  • William Robinson Boothby «‹›» 1856 – 1903
  • Otto H Schomburgk «‹›» 1903 – 1929
  • Harold E. Whittle «‹›» 1929 – 1935
  • Stanley George Blackman «‹›» 1935 – 1950
  • James Hurtle Allen «‹›» 1950 – 1965
  • Herbert George Collins «‹›» 1965 – 1978
  • John Andrew Carr «‹›» 1978 – date

South Australia has an area of 984,000 square kilometres with a population (June, 1990) 1,439,000. (Australia: 7,682,000 square kilometres – population 17,085,000) – Australian Bureau of Statistics 1991


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