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Sarawak Court History

The history of the court buildings in Kuching could be traced back as far as 1847. It began with a two-storey wooden building that Rupe, a Lutheran Missionary, built to house a day school. It was situated at the present site of the Court House, Main Bazaar Road, Kuching. The school did not materialize because he had to leave for his home country, Germany. It was later taken over by Rajah James Brooke, who converted the existing classrooms into a court for the administration of justice.


During the first six years of Brooke’s reign, court proceedings were conducted at the Rajah’s residence, which is the present Astana Negeri (State Palace). When Dr. Francis Thomas McDougall, who later become the first Bishop of Borneo, arrived in June 1848, he and his family were permitted to stay at the upper portion of the building until the Bishop’s House was completed in 1849.


There were no other historical records on the original court building until the Insurrection of the Bau Gold Mine Chinese Kongsi in February 1857. Liu Shanbang, the leader of the Chinese Kongsi succeeded in capturing Kuching Town during the insurrection from 18 to 21 February 1857. Immediately after declaring himself king for the day on the Rajah’s seat in the said court, he ordered Brooke’s men to appear before him and report on Brooke’s position.


The said building was demolished in 1858 upon the instruction of the Tuan Muda Charles Brooke. After he was declared the Second Rajah in 1968, he directed that a new building be built to house other government offices under the same roof with the courts. It took seven years to complete due to shortage of building materials.


The Court House was officiated by Captain W.H. Rodway, the Acting Resident of Sarawak on 3 June 1874 at 11:00 A.M. The ceremony was preceded by a parade of Sarawak Rangers round Kuching town led by a band and finally graced with the Guards of Honour. The occasion coincided with the Second Rajah’s birthday.


The Court House was one of the most majestic buildings that had ever been built during Brooke’s era in Sarawak. The paneling of its courtroom ceiling bore Dayak motifs depicting the tradition of the folks from Baram who helped to design and complete it in 1951. There are huge tapering columns supporting the roof along the corridors. Its main entrance is guarded by a clock tower that was added to the building in 1883. It is supported by twin columns at each corner of the square corridor below it. The unique carvings on the railings of its balcony are believed to be of Roman influence. There used to be a small room in the tower where the Kuching Municipal Council often held its meetings. However, it was closed after the Second World War.


Adjacent to the building were the Resident’s Office, the Surveyor’s Office and the Government Printers Office. The Treasury Office, the Post Office, Audit Office and Shipping Office were located at the far end of the building towards Tun Haji Openg Road.


There were two other buildings making up the court complex at Main Bazaar Road. The building facing India Street is known as the Japanese Building. It was built and occupied by the Japanese during its occupation. It was renovated in recent times. It now looks like an arch linking the mall between Carpenter Street and India Street.


The building located at the end of the mall near to Tun Haji Openg Road is known as the Round Tower. It was built in 1886. It was meant to be a fort but its construction was halted. It was occupied by the Japanese during the Second World War. It was later used as a Dispensary until 1947, and as the Labour Office until 1980. The Subordinate Courts Registry was housed in that building until end of August 2000.


Towards the Sarawak River stood an obelisk that was built in 1942. It was unveiled on 16 October 1924 and named as the Charles Brooke Memorial, the Rajah who was said to have brought development to Sarawak.


The Court House had witnessed numerous historical events. The first building was almost razed down by fire during the Great Fire in Kuching town on 20 January 1844. The General Council (later referred to as the Council Negeri in 1903) held its meetings there from 1878 until 1973, commencing from its fifth meeting. It was later used as the Administrative Centre of the High Court of Borneo (now the High Court in Sabah and Sarawak). On 1 September 2000, the Court House was moved to a new Court Complex and operated at Jalan Gersik, Petra Jaya.


The Kuching Resident Magistrate also sits at the circuit stations namely in Bau and Lundu.


Further, Kota Samarahan Court is under the Kuching’s administration, which dealing with cases under the jurisdiction of Magistrates and Sessions Court. The resident officer also sits at the circuit stations in Serian and PATI Court, Semuja.


The first established court in Sri Aman is on 1864. Ford Alice were built by Rajah Charles Brooke.The Ford Alice were mainly as administrative centre and also defence ford to keep peace at Sungai Batang Lupar. This ford as well, is the Civil Court at that particular time. On the lower floor of the ford is the detention facilities for the accused.



On 8th day of May 2006 marked the shifting of Magistrate and Sessions Court Sri Aman the old office at Block 1, Bangunan Negeri, Jalan Abang Aing to the present office at ground floor, Block 4, Wisma Persekutuan, Jalan Kejatau, Sri Aman. The present Sri Aman Court has two courtrooms.


The Sri Aman Resident Magistrate also sits at the circuit stations namely in Betong, Lubok Antu, Saratok and Simunjan

Sibu Court House was started its operation as early year 1935. During this time, the courtroom was placed at lower ground of Bangunan Pejabat Daerah Sibu. The Court was situated near Bangunan Pelabuhan Rejang and Police Office.



New Sibu Court Complex was officially opened by Tuan Yang Terutama Yang Di-Pertuan Negeri Sarawak Tun Datuk Patinggi Abang Haji Muhammad Salahuddin on 3 May 1980. It was officially run its administration at this new complex in 1983.


The circuit stations under the administration of Sibu Court are Kapit, Mukah, Song, Dalat, Kanowit and Belaga.


Sarikei Court House was started its operation as early year 1937. During this time, the courtroom was placed at Bangunan Pejabat Daerah Sarikei. The Magistrate also was assigned to hear cases registered under the district of Bintangor, Julau and Matu-Daro.

Initially, cases registered were heard by Pegawai Daerah. In 1970, the cases started been heard by the assigned Magistrate.

New Sarikei Court Complex was officially run its administration in November 2010.


The Bintulu Court has established way back in 1985 of which a Magistrate Court its Registry was set up in Bintulu. The Magistrate was assigned to hear the cases in the District of Tatau and Sebauh.


Since the establishment of Magistrate’s Court at Bintulu is was then operated at Wisma Residen, Bintulu before moving into its own court complex known as “Kompleks Mahkamah Bintulu” in February, 2003.


Before 2005, Bintulu Court was only occupied by one Magistrate and the supporting staff, dealing with cases registered within the jurisdiction on the Magistrate’s Court itself. Cases that are within the jurisdiction of the High Court and Session’s Court Judge are registered and filed at the respective Registry in Miri. However, hearing of the cases were still be conducted in Bintulu and respective Judges from Miri were assigned to hear those cases.



Beginning 1st day of September, 2005, the High Court at Bintulu has been established to accommodate the increasing number of cases in Bintulu. For Session’s Court Bintulu, it has been established on 3rd day of May, 2007.

The Miri Court building had a humble beginning. It was designed in a rectangular shape and it was made of wood. The building is situated in Jalan Puchong where it still stands today.


The building had one court room and an administration office. Since no Magistrate was residing in Miri at that time, the court was managed by a clerk and assisted by a court’s process server.  



Sometime in October 1965, a stipendiary Magistrate was finally attached to the court. An interpreter and a transcriber were consequently assigned to the court to assist the Magistrate. The employees shared a working space with the Magistrate since no private chamber was available.


At that point, the then Chief Judge of Borneo felt that it was necessary to relocate the location of the building to ensure smooth running operation. This was because of several reasons i.e. a highway was in construction several yards from the building, there existed a public parking lot nearby along with a congested pathway behind the building accessed by the school children; and there was a need for a judge’s chamber to accommodate judges travelling to Miri. 


It was in light of these reasons that the court building was relocated to Miri District Office building to meet those demands. With the help of the State Government and the Miri Resident Office, the Miri Court building had its own judicial department with a courtroom, judge’s chamber, and a store room.


The judicial administration of Miri then moved to a new phase in the early 1980s when the Miri Session Court was established. Both Session and Magistrate Court were then conducted by the Miri Subordinate Court Office. To meet such needs, an administration office, a courtroom, as well as two chambers were required. One of the chambers was for the President of the Session Court, while the other two Magistrates shared the other chamber. The High Court Judge would also use the Session Court chamber on his official circuit court duties. Miri Judicial Department had occupied most of the building spaces at Miri District Office. A second temporary courtroom was then set up in a different block in the District Office building. Apart from that, a building which was used by Miri District Education Office and various government bodies was reconditioned to make way for a new Session Court and a chamber for Session Court Judge.


Over the course of time, Miri court was facing the same problem yet again as court cases gradually increased and caused overcrowding in the court premises. Part of the courts’ administration office had to move to another establishment opposite Wisma Pelita Tunku Miri where site was previously a Mother and Child Health Clinic. Once the renovation was completed, both Session Court and Subordinate Court Registry Office of Miri began operating there. Meanwhile, the Magistrate Court of Miri was relocated back to the first Miri Court Building.


The High Court Registry Office then occupied the vacated space following the relocation of the Subordinate Court Office. The previous registry office of Subordinate Court was then converted into High Court, judge’s chamber and library. By 1987, a High Court Judge was appointed in Miri.


Seeing that the Miri High Court and Subordinate Court buildings were in different location, a proposal was made to bring both entities together. The aspiration of building a Court Complex in Miri finally became a reality on the 19th of January 1996. The ceremonial breaking of the ground was carried out on a 2.195 acres site at Lot 394, Block 9 MCLD, Jalan Merdu, Miri. This project costed RM13 million and took about 2 years to complete. The Miri Court Complex has 2 High Courts, 2 Session Courts, 4 Magistrate Courts, a library, a registrar’s office, a registry office for the High Court as well as for the Subordinate Court, an office for the police, a canteen, and some other facilities.


Upon the completion of the complex, all tasks carried out by Miri High Court and Subordinate Court had become more organized and efficient. Miri Court Complex started its operation from the 2nd of May 1998.

Limbang Court is operated at Aras Bawah, Blok A, Wisma Persekutuan. It’s started its operation in 1984. The assigned officer to this court held numerous post i.e. as Magistrate, Deputy Registrar of the High Court and also acting as Session Court Judge. The officer was also assigned to hear the cases in the District of Lawas.