For the Community

Community Legal Resources Francis Burt Law Education Programme

Francis Burt Law Education Programme


The Francis Burt Law Education Programme seeks to advance the Western Australian community’s understanding of the law, legal principles and the court system.

The Programme operates on the principle that all people must understand the law and the legal system, which affects their daily lives. Housed in the Old Court House Law Museum, the oldest building in the City of Perth, qualified Education Officers present structured legal education programmes.

The Education Programme offers

  • school and community group tours with court visits (Supreme Court, District Court or Magistrates Court), an empty court activity; and scripted trials based on fictional scenarios and historical West Australian cases
  • legal education resources
  • professional development workshops for teachers
  • an interactive Mock Trial Competition for secondary students
  • Regional and Remote Schools Loan Box Programme
  • Youth Civics Leadership Day
  • the Hypothetical
  • Sir Ronald Wilson Lecture
  • Lawyer Visits to Schools Network
  • Cluedunnit Kids Competition

Proudly supported by:




Corner St Georges Tce & Barrack Street, Perth
(next to the Supreme Court of Western Australia)
Telephone: (08) 9324 8686

Old Court House Law Museum

Old Court House Law Museum


The Old Court House Law Museum is one of only a few law museums in the world. The museum is housed in the City of Perth’s oldest building, constructed in 1836, next to the Supreme Court of Western Australia.

The museum promotes an understanding of the law, legal issues and the legal profession in Western Australia’s community and preserves the history of the law and the legal profession in Western Australia. The museum’s interpretive displays, Small Court House Big Stories and People and The Law, are accompanied by an audio overview and take visitors on a journey through Western Australia’s legal history.

Public Programmes and Events at the Museum

The Law Society’s Old Court House Law Museum hosts free events for the community, including school holiday programmes and Heritage Conversations.

Visit the Museum

Location: Stirling Gardens, corner of Barrack Street and St Georges Terrace, Perth (next to the Supreme Court of Western Australia)
Hours: Tuesday to Friday 10.00am to 4.00pm
Cost: Free entry
Phone: (08) 9324 8688

The museum is a community service managed by the Law Society of Western Australia and sponsored by the Public Purposes Trust and the Department of the Attorney General.

Lotterywest has kindly provided a grant for exhibition fabrication and installation. Approximately one third of all money raised from the sale of Lotterywest Games is distributed through Lotterywest Grants to nearly 1000 different community organisations as well as the arts, sports, and health sectors.

Old Court House Law Museum

Image courtesy of Justin Tonti-Filippini

History of the Old Court House

Early Days
The Old Court House is Perth’s oldest public building and was the most prominent building in the early days of the Swan River Colony. For the first six years of the Colony, court was held in the Anglican Church of St James, a small building with rush walls and a thatched roof.

In 1836 Governor Stirling called for tenders for the construction of a new court and accepted the lowest bid of ₤698. The building was designed by the colony’s Civil Engineer, Henry William Reveley. When it opened in 1837 it also served as a church for all denominations and as a schoolroom.

Read more

Concert Hall
The Old Court House was important in the early musical life of the colonists and was the scene of the first public concert. In 1846, Dom Salvado, a Spanish Benedictine Monk, gave a piano recital in the courtroom to raise funds to develop a mission. Salvado walked more than 100 kilometres to Perth from near New Norcia and gave a Bellini recital to a packed audience in the ragged clothes he arrived in.

Trial of John Gaven
The trial of John Gaven, the first European executed in the Colony, took place in the Old Court House in 1844. Gaven, a petty thief, was 15 years old when he was transported from Parkhurst Prison on the Isle of Wight and apprenticed to the Pollard family in the South West. Within a few months of his arrival, he was accused of the murder of 18 year old George Pollard. He was found guilty in the Old Court House and was hanged three days later outside the Roundhouse in Fremantle on Easter Saturday.

In February 1849 a meeting of State importance was held in the Old Court House. In response to a labour shortage, farmers and merchants called a meeting at which a motion was passed in favour of a full penal colony. The following year convicts began to arrive.

Representative Government
The Old Court House was the venue for a public meeting to demand Representative Government. The demands were unsuccessful until 1870.

Arbitration Court
From 1905 to 1964 the State Industrial Arbitration Court proceedings were held in the Old Court House.

Law Society of Western Australia
From 1965 to 1987 the Old Court House served as the office of the Law Society of Western Australia.

Francis Burt Law Education Centre and Museum
In 1987 the building was refurbished, opened to the public and named the Francis Burt Law Education Centre and Museum, a community legal education centre and one of the few law museums worldwide.

Heritage Site
In 1992 the Court House was listed by the National Trust as a Heritage Site.

Old Court House Law Museum
In 2011 the Francis Burt Law Education Centre and Museum was renamed the Old Court House Law Museum.

Redesign of the Museum
Thanks to funding support from Lotterywest, the Old Court House Law Museum has been undergoing a redesign since 2009.

To begin this redesign, an interpretation plan was commissioned and was completed in 2010. Following recommendations in the interpretation plan the Museum completed stage 1, an audio tour, in 2011.

Stage 2, the exhibition Small Court House, Big Stories: The first 50 years of law in Western Australia was completed in 2012.

Stage 3, People and the Law was installed in 2014 and the design for the stage 3, From Past to Present: The changing face of the law, is now complete.

The final stage of the redesign is expected to be completed by late 2016 subject to obtaining funding.

For more information about the museum’s history please read The Old Court House: A Brief History.


Dr Peter Handford, Senior Honorary Research Fellow, University of Western Australia | Convenor, Oral History, Museum and Building Sub-Committee

What is the value of the Old Court House Law Museum to the Law Society, its members and the wider community?

The Old Court House Law Museum serves as an important reminder of the law and the legal system in the early years of European settlement.

Our court buildings reflect our legal history: the David Malcolm Justice Centre is a modern building, representative of a modern legal system, while the 1903 Supreme Court is a reminder of a simpler age when the court system consisted of the Supreme Court itself, the Local Courts and the Courts of Petty Sessions.

When it was built in 1837, the Old Court House was home to the colony’s original judicial institutions: the Civil Court, presided over by the Chairman, first Mackie and then Moore, and the Court of Quarter Sessions for criminal cases, held before two Justices of the Peace. These were originally the only courts, designed to be a very simple court system appropriate for the needs of a small colony: so, for example, there was little equitable jurisdiction, in an attempt to spare Western Australia the full impact of the unreformed English Chancery practice as portrayed in Dickens’s Bleak House.

In the end, WA had to move forward: later judges highlighted the lack of equity jurisdiction, and so the Supreme Court was created in 1861.

By this time court sittings had moved to Beaufort St, though the Supreme Court returned to sit in the Old Court House from 1863 to 1880, and again from 1895 to 1903. But the Museum displays are designed to concentrate on the first 50 years or so of European settlement, depicting the struggle to dispense justice in a small colony far from the home of English law.

Incidentally, the Old Court House is also a physical reminder of the importance of teaching legal history to students – a subject sadly not now taught in most of our Law Schools.

What is one of the most significant stories, in your mind, in the Old Court House Law Museum?

A panel display and a filmed dramatisation tell the story of the trial of Weewar in 1842. Weewar was an Aboriginal man charged with wilful murder, after he had carried out the tribally sanctioned killing of another Aboriginal.He was required to plead to the charge, found guilty of murder and sentenced to death, though his sentence was eventually commuted to imprisonment, served on Rottnest Island.

The case is important because it confirmed that the English law introduced in Western Australia in 1829 applied not only to the settlers but also to the Aboriginal people, even in a case such as this where the crime was committed by one Aboriginal against another, and was done in the course of carrying out Aboriginal justice.

Like the earlier New South Wales case of R v Jack Congo Murrell in 1836, it demonstrated that the English settlers had assumed sovereignty over all the inhabitants, including the Aboriginal inhabitants.

Counsel for Jack Congo Murrell argued that if a person goes to a foreign country, he must expect to obey the local laws, rather than the opposite situation – an argument that, viewed with present-day eyes, seems entirely rational. However, in the 1830s and 1840s the opposite point of view won the day – with tremendous consequences for the law, and for the original inhabitants of Western Australia.

How can the Old Court House Law Museum play a role in the pursuit of social justice, human rights, or health and wellbeing?

The stories told in the museum displays focus on various social justice and human rights issues in a historical context. They have been chosen to highlight issues that are just as relevant today as when they took place.

The Francis Burt Legal Education Programme has a mission to educate the public generally, and in particular school students, about legal issues, and the Museum plays an important part in this, as do the mock trial competitions and the Programme’s other activities, many of which take place in the Museum itself. By such means, Perth’s oldest building has an important contemporary role to play in educating people about human rights and social justice.

Richard Offen, Executive Director, Heritage Perth

What is the value of the Old Court House Law Museum to the Law Society, its members and the wider community?

The Old Court House Law Museum is important for two reasons, firstly it is the oldest standing building in the city centre and, as such, is a very significant reminder of the early days of the Swan River Colony’s struggles to establish itself on the banks of the river.

Secondly, as a law museum, it provides a highly engaging insight into the history of law and order in Western Australia, reminding us of past legal triumphs and also things we should never allow to happen again.

What is one of the most significant stories, in your mind, in the Old Court House Law Museum?

For me, the most interesting sections are those exhibits explaining the history of Noongar law, reminding us of 40,000 years of heritage, and establishment of a judicial system in the early colony.

Both these aspects of this beautiful old building offer the community, and visitors from beyond, a fascinating and engaging insight into the history of a subject which is often forgotten by the public. Perth is lucky to have this treasure, one of only a handful of law museums around the world.

Robert Mitchell, Executive Officer, Museums Galleries Western Australia

What is the value of the Old Court House Law Museum to the Law Society, its members and the wider community?

I think of the Old Court House Law Museum as a pair of X-ray glasses providing the uninitiated (the general public outside the legal profession and its ancillaries) an opportunity to explore and better understand the role of peace, order and good government in our society.

For many of us, a major part of our understanding of the law is based on police or courtroom dramas produced in the United States. This is supplemented by political headlines using statistics, bad behaviour or confrontation to lament lack of standards, lack of toughness, bias or racism to promote one extreme or the other as a solution to society’s problems.

Entertaining, diverting, irritating or motivating as all of the above may be, these exposures perhaps do not provide a rational and reasoned view of our courts, legal system and traditions of laws and justice. This is where the Old Court House Law Museum plays a valuable and increasingly valued role in the community. Whether through school programs or public visits, the Museum provides a sound basis for understanding one of the processes that classifies us as a civil society. The Museum provides a foundation to connect our legal system to the foundations of our community.

Some of the objects at the Museum which I think provide this connection I would describe as symbols of authority and sovereignty, be they seals, letterheads or embossed stamps. These heraldic appendages provide a sense of continuity, tradition, probity and executive delegation. As such they provide a sense of confidence and trust. We often overlook these symbols which appear on documents ranging from our driver’s licence, to our rates notice to notification for jury duty. There is a story behind every one, which the Museum is able from time to time to tell.

The pursuit of social justice, human rights, or health and wellbeing are outcomes of our concepts of peace, order and good government. As curator at the Australian Army Museum of Western Australia, I can tell the stories of service and sacrifice to preserve these values. Through the stories of legislation, advocacy, professional excellence, custom, precedent and tradition, the Old Court House Law Museum can promote an understanding of the foundations of social justice and human rights and their contribution to community health and wellbeing.

Museums have been characterised as a safe place for dangerous ideas. Taken further, the Old Court House Law Museum is a place where we can understand and appreciate the best ideas.

The Honourable Robert Nicholson AO, former Federal Court Judge, founding member of the Old Court Law Museum and Francis Burt Law Education Programme

What is the value of the Old Court House Law Museum to the Law Society, its members and the wider community?

The practice of law cannot be sensibly viewed in isolation either from society or from the history in which the law has been practiced over the course of time.  The Old Court House Law Museum provides the opportunity for practitioners of the moment to have a glance of what it was like to be in their position in the past.

It also provides to the profession a place in which to preserve the present as we have known it.  Nowhere has this been more true than in the time when technology has recast the methods of legal practice to a measure not previously contemplated.

What is one of the most significant stories, in your mind, in the Old Court House Law Museum?

My most significant story of the time I spent on the Board of the Francis Burt Law Education Centre (now Programme) was the moment when another Board member, Mrs Elizabeth Picton-Warlow, pointed out that if we wanted to develop we had to be part of legal education.  It was so true and upon adoption largely shaped our future activities.

The Programme then sought to provide to the community and schools an education in what the law is about, why it was important to the community and how it represented the concept of justice.

How can the Old Court House Law Museum play a role in the pursuit of social justice, human rights, or health and wellbeing?

Social justice, human rights and health and wellbeing are all part of the spectrum of life to which the law contributes.  Without social justice or human rights, our health and wellbeing could be seriously affected.

Reference to life in societies where the rule of law is non-existent and where dictatorial will or executive power rule society, shows most dramatically that this is so.  The rule of law is the lynch-pin of our world.  By making that connection apparent to the young and to the public the Museum and the Programme can contribute to its future maintenance and endurance.

Proudly supported by:

Mock Trial Competition

Mock Trial Competition


The Law Society coordinates an inter-school Mock Trial Competition each year between students enrolled in years 10, 11 and 12.

What is a Mock Trial?

A mock trial is a simulated court case in which teams contest a fictitious Western Australian (WA) legal matter presented in the WA court system. The cases are presented by two teams – a prosecution/plaintiff team and a defence team – made up of students playing the roles of barristers, solicitors, witnesses and court officials.

The Mock Trial Competition provides an enjoyable, dynamic way of introducing students to the law. It provides students with an opportunity to learn valuable skills in research and the development and presentation of a persuasive argument.

The whole class can benefit by being involved in some of the suggested learning and teaching activities that can be used to help prepare the teams for the trial.

For more information

Please contact the Mock Trial Co-ordinator or (08) 9324 8604.

Proudly Supported by

Murdoch University
Public Purposes Trust

Public Purposes Trust


The Law Society’s Public Purposes Trust (the Trust) was established in 1985.  “A copy of the deed establishing the Trust is set out in the Schedule to the Law Society Public Purposes Trust Act 1985 (WA) (the Act).” The Law Society of Western Australia (Inc.) is the trustee of the Law Society Public Purposes Trust.


In its role as Trustee, the Law Society sets policies with regard to the investment of the Trust’s assets and provides administration services to the Trust. The Trust receives its income from two sources, being income from the Trust’s investments and 49% of the interest paid by banks, on Solicitors Trust Accounts in Western Australia.

The Law Society does not decide which applications are to receive funding. Applications for grants are assessed through an independent three stage process via an Allocations Committee and the Attorney General.

For more information please read frequently asked questions.

Law Week

Law Week


Embracing the law as part of our daily lives is important. From knowing our rights under the law, creating employment contracts, and to knowing how a mediation works, through to setting up a business, having a will prepared or simply knowing what to do and where to go for need legal assistance, the law plays a vital role.

Each year, Law Week showcases events which provide the opportunity for the community and the legal profession to engage in open dialogue and build a shared understanding of the role of law in society. It is an excellent opportunity for the profession to promote its role in enabling an open, independent and unbiased judicial system.

The Law Society of Western Australia showcases a series of events and information sessions focusing on law and justice in the community including:

  • Breakfast to open the week of events
  • The Attorney General’s Community Service Law Award
  • Mental Health seminar
  • Free information sessions and talks
  • Activities hosted by councils and community centres across Western Australia
  • Community events including activities for school students
  • Free legal advice – by appointment at specific locations
  • Lawyer of the Year Awards
  • Cocktail evening to close Law Week

A number of events support the Chief Justice’s Law Week Youth Appeal Trust through donation of part profits.