Under the First and Second Charters of Justice (proclaimed in 1787 and 1814 respectively under the authority of Imperial Act 27 George III) justices of the peace appointed by the Governor were granted summary jurisdiction to hear petty criminal matters in the first instance without a jury.
The powers of justices of the peace and of police magistrates to sit as petty sessions were ultimately codified in the New South Wales Acts of 1835 (2 Victoria 2) and of 1850 (14 Victoria 43). This latter New South Wales Act ultimately formed the basis of the Queensland "Justices Act of 1886", which legislated for the appointment by the Governor in Council of districts for the holding of courts of petty sessions. The Court of Petty Sessions, Gladstone was proclaimed by the Governor in Council on 2 January 1854.
Under the "Justices Act Amendment Act 1964", from 1 January 1965 onwards: all courts of petty sessions districts were deemed to be magistrates courts districts, all places previously appointed for the holding of courts of petty sessions were deemed to be places for the holding of magistrates courts, all clerks of petty sessions were deemed to be registrars of magistrates courts.
Under a number of further Acts, the establishment of a place for the holding of a court of petty sessions was deemed to establish a number of further courts, for example, magistrates courts, fair rents courts, small debts courts. This agency definition will however be concerned purely with the court of petty sessions sitting as this court.
Courts of petty sessions had petty criminal jurisdiction and jurisdiction for summary actions of ejectment between lessors and lessees. Petty criminal jurisdiction is a complicated matter of law involving numerous Commonwealth and State statutes but can be briefly described as jurisdiction over summary trials of simple offences and committal proceedings for indictable offences sent to the Supreme Court.
In practice, if not in statute, courts of petty sessions were divided into three courts: police court (prosecutions commenced by police), summons court (prosecutions and proceedings for ejectment commenced by private prosecutors) and traffic court.
Colonial Secretary, NSW, 2 Jan 1854 - 10/15 Dec 1859
Colonial Secretary 10/15 Dec 1859 - 6 Aug 1896
Home Secretary 6 Aug 1896 - 27 Jan 1904
Attorney General 27 Jan 1904 - 19 Nov 1907
Minister of Justice 19 Nov 1907 - 18 Feb 1908
Attorney General 18 Feb 1908 - 22 Oct 1919
Minister of Justice 22 Oct 1919 - 7 Apr 1920
Attorney General 7 Apr 1920 - 14 Nov 1957
Minister for Justice and Attorney General 14 Nov 1957 - 31 Dec 1964
Magistrates Courts were already in existence when Courts of Petty Sessions ceased to operate in 1964 and they took over most of the functions formerly carried out by the Petty Sessions Courts.