The Colonial Laws Validity Act, which passed the British Parliament on 29 June 1865, was intended to resolve a nearly ten-year constitutional impasse between the local legislature and the Supreme Court, especially Justice Benjamin Boothby. Boothby had incapacitated the South Australian Parliament by his principled if dogmatic assertion of the common-law maxim that English statutes applied by paramount force in British colonies from (usually) their date of foundation, so that all colonial laws repugnant to English law were invalid. The Colonial Laws Validity Act declared that the only British statute or statutory regulation binding a colony was one which applied to it expressly or by ‘necessary intendment’. It thus confirmed the powers of colonial legislatures to create courts, alter local constitutions and authenticate laws. Clause 7 singled out South Australia in a general validation of its statute law. Boothby, unmoved, was forced from office in 1867. Nationalists saw the act as a ‘charter of colonial independence’, although this statute rendered the Australian states and Commonwealth (until the latter adopted the Statute of Westminster in 1931) incapable of repealing it or any of the hundreds of (sometimes ancient) English statutes which it validated.

By Peter Moore

This entry was first published in The Wakefield Companion to South Australian History edited by Wilfrid Prest, Kerrie Round and Carol Fort (Adelaide: Wakefield Press, 2001). Edited lightly. Uploaded 29 June 2015.

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