Sir Archibald Paull Burt QC (1810 - 21 November 1879) was a British lawyer from the colonies of the West Indies, and became the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Western Australia when it was created in 1861.
Archibald Paull Burt was born in 1810, in Saint Christopher (present day Saint Kitts and Nevis) in the West Indies. He was the son of George Henry Burt, sugar planter and Speaker of the House Assembly of Saint Christopher. He was educated in England where he qualified as a lawyer at the Middle Temple. He returned to his native island in 1835 where he practised as a barrister. Following in his father's footsteps he held the position of Speaker of the House of Assembly of the Islands and in 1848 he was made Attorney General of Saint Christopher and Anguilla and Queen's Counsel.
In 1835 and 1836 Burt was awarded compensation by the British government for relinquishing slaves in Saint Christopher. The claim on 5 October 1835 for 3 enslaved, yielded £67 0s 3d to Burt himself. Two claims were awarded on 15 February 1836 to Burt and Francis Spencer Wigley (who became President of Saint Christopher in 1880 and of Saint Christopher-Nevis-Anguilla in 1888) for 3 and 4 slaves, netting a total of £119 7s 9d for seven enslaved people.
In 1857 he briefly occupied the position of Chief Justice on his native island but the appointment was not confirmed by the Colonial Office as policy did not favour the appointment of locally born barristers to the judiciary. Sir Archibald began to look elsewhere for judicial office, eventually accepting the post of Civil Commissioner and Chairman of Quarter Sessions in Western Australia. He had hoped that this would be a stepping stone to returning to his native island at a later date.
He arrived in Western Australia with his wife, Louisa Bryan, and five children on 29 January 1861. In June of that year, the Supreme Court ordinance was proclaimed, thus establishing the Supreme Court of Western Australia. Sir Archibald was appointed Chief Justice and Advocate General.
The initial years of the Supreme Court were characterised mainly by the lack of work. Western Australia was a small colony with few legal issues. Civil work consisted mainly of insolvency and probate, and criminal offences were rare. The size of the profession was so small that only four barristers actively practised in Perth in the early 1860s.
In the early years of the court, Sir Archibald was conspicuous for his support of maintaining the division between barristers and solicitors, and also for his domination of the legal fraternity. He often gave advice to the Governor and Executive Council that was at odds with that of the Attorney General, George Frederick Stone.
As Chief Justice, Sir Archibald gained a reputation for applying the letter of the law. However, considering the conditions of a frontier colony like Western Australia this was necessary and gained Burt widespread respect. He was no stranger to controversy in his time as Chief Justice. In 1869 he jailed three newspaper owners for criticism of his handling of the revocation of an ex-convict's ticket of leave. Despite widespread criticism of this action, Sir Archibald remained implacable in his defence of his duty to protect the integrity of the Court.
As his tenure continued, Sir Archibald gave up any hope of returning to the West Indies, and despite failing health during his last years, remained Chief Justice until his death in November, 1879. He had been a towering figure in Western Australian society and left an indelible mark on the legal profession. Sir Archibald had not courted popularity but he had earned, for himself and the new Supreme Court, widespread respect.
The Burt family would continue to be part of Western Australia's legal profession for years to come. Sir Archibald's son, Septimus, would serve as Attorney General and sometime Acting Premier in the early years of responsible government in Western Australia and a century later his great-grandson, Sir Francis Burt would serve as Chief Justice, Lieutenant Governor and Governor. The family also continued its influence and presence in Perth society in inter-marriage with other members of the Six hungry families. His daughter Louisa Emily Burt was married to George Leake, another barrister who became Premier of Western Australia.