Supreme Court of New South Wales

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Supreme Court of New South Wales
Coat of Arms of New South Wales.svg
The Supreme Court building in Queen's Square, Sydney
Established 1823
Location Sydney
Coordinates 33°52′08″S 151°12′42″E / 33.868918°S 151.211628°E / -33.868918; 151.211628Coordinates: 33°52′08″S 151°12′42″E / 33.868918°S 151.211628°E / -33.868918; 151.211628
Composition method Vice-regal appointment upon Premier's nomination, following advice of the Attorney General and Cabinet
Authorized by Parliament of New South Wales via the:
Decisions are appealed to
Decisions are heard for appeals from District Court of New South Wales
Judge term length mandatory retirement by age of 72
Number of positions 53
Chief Justice of New South Wales
Currently Justice Tom Bathurst AC
Since 1 June 2011 (2011-06-01)

The Supreme Court of New South Wales is the highest state court of the Australian State of New South Wales. It has unlimited jurisdiction within the state in civil matters, and hears the most serious criminal matters. Whilst the Supreme Court is the highest New South Wales court in the Australian court hierarchy, an appeal by special leave can be made to the High Court of Australia.

Matters of appeal can be submitted to the New South Wales Court of Appeal and Court of Criminal Appeal, both of which are constituted by members of the Supreme Court, in the case of the Court of Appeal from those who have been commissioned as judges of appeal.

The Supreme Court consists of 52 permanent judges, including the Chief Justice of New South Wales, presently Tom Bathurst, the President of the Court of Appeal, 11 Judges of Appeal, the Chief Judge at Common Law, and the Chief Judge in Equity.

The Supreme Court building is physically located in Queen's Square, Sydney, New South Wales.



The first superior court of the Colony of New South Wales (known as the Supreme Court of Civil Judicature) was established by letters patent dated 2 April 1814, known as the Second Charter of Justice of New South Wales. That charter provided that there should be a Supreme Court constituted by a Judge appointed by the King's commission and two Magistrates. The charter also created the Governor's Court and the Lieutenant-Governor's Court. The jurisdiction of the Governor's Court and the Supreme Court extended to Van Diemen's Land (the former name for Tasmania). All three courts were concerned with civil matters only.[1]


Legislation to establish a new supreme court for both New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land was prepared in London by James Stephen, counsel to the Colonial Office, and Francis Forbes, Chief Justice of Newfoundland and Chief Justice-designate of New South Wales. The act was called an "Act to provide for the better administration of justice in New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land and for the more effectual government thereof" and is commonly numbered as "4 Geo. IV, c. 96". The statute was passed on 19 July 1823.[2]

In consequence of this legislation, letters patent establishing the New South Wales Supreme Court were sealed on 13 October 1823, and proclaimed in Sydney on 17 May 1824. They are known as the Third Charter of Justice of New South Wales.

This charter provided that there should be a Chief Justice for the colony of New South Wales in the Island of New Holland (as the continent of Australia was then known), as well as other judges, a registrar, a prothonotary, a master, and a Keeper of Records and such other Officers as may be necessary for the administration of Justice in the colony.

The charter also established the office of sheriff; gave precedence to the Chief Justice over all other subjects except the Governor (or acting Governor) of the colony; and allowed the Court to admit persons to be barristers, attorneys, proctors or solicitors as the case may be. Previously, a person had to be admitted as such in the United Kingdom. However, ex-convicts were not permitted to be admitted.

In 1840, a Port Phillip division of the Court was created, consisting of a single Resident Judge, to exercise the court's jurisdiction in the Port Phillip District of the Colony of New South Wales.[3] The division existed until 1852, when it was replaced by the Supreme Court of Victoria following the creation of the Colony of Victoria.[4]

Also in 1840, the Parliament of New South Wales established a separate equity division in the court. Limited jurisdiction in divorce cases was granted in 1873 and full Admiralty jurisdiction was added in 1911. The Supreme Court, in 1972, was one of the last Common Law jurisdictions in the world to fuse the administration of Equity and Common Law, although these continue as the historic names for the two divisions of the court. This process began in the United Kingdom with the passage of the Judicature Acts in 1873. Since 1930, three generations of the Street family have served New South Wales as Chief Justice.

Supreme Court Judges Carolyn Simpson, Margaret Beazley and Virginia Bell made headlines in April 1999 when the three sat in the Court of Criminal Appeal in Sydney.[5] The Judges threw out an appeal from a convicted computer hacker who had, out of "sheer maliciousness", been posting offensive messages on Ausnet's homepage. According to the Women Lawyers Association of NSW, there had never been an all-female bench in England or New Zealand at the time.[6]

Structure and jurisdiction[edit]

The court now operates under the Constitution Act 1902 (NSW), the Supreme Court Act 1970 (NSW), and the Civil Procedure Act 2005 (NSW), although provisions on the appointment and removal of judicial officers were incorporated into the state's Constitution in 1992.

The court consists of 52 permanent judges, 3 Acting Judges of Appeal, 2 Acting Judges, and an Associate Judge. Permanent judges include the Chief Justice of New South Wales, the President of the Court of Appeal, 11 Judges of Appeal (one of whom is currently the Chief Judge at Common Law), the Chief Judge at Common Law and the Chief Judge in Equity, and 38 Puisne Judges. Associate Judges deal with pre-trial motions and non-jury trials.

The Chief Judge in each trial division also sits in the Court of Appeal from time to time. Occasionally, puisne judges also sit in the Court of Appeal, though this is uncommon.

The court hears very serious cases such as murder and treason, civil cases involving more than $750 000, and civil matters such as wills, injunctions, and admiralty. The court's work at first instance is divided between the Common Law Division, which hears civil, criminal and administrative law matters, and the Equity Division, which hears equity, probate, commercial, admiralty, and protective matters. The court includes the Court of Appeal and the Court of Criminal Appeal which hear appeals from the District Court and the Local Court and from single judges sitting in the Common Law or Equity Divisions. The Court of Appeal also hears appeals from the Land and Environment Court of New South Wales and a number of administrative tribunals.

The Court of Appeal and the Court of Criminal Appeal are respectively the highest civil and criminal courts in the state. To appeal to the High Court of Australia from the Court of Appeal or the Court of Criminal Appeal, special leave must be granted by the High Court.

Appeals from state supreme courts to the High Court are not limited to matters in which a federal question arises and the Constitution empowers the Federal Parliament to make laws vesting state courts with federal jurisdiction. The High Court of Australia can review decisions of the Supreme Court of New South Wales in relation to the common law and equitable jurisdictions of the court as well. The High Court of Australia has exercised this power on a number of occasions.

Current Judges[edit]

The current judges serving on the Court, and the dates of their appointment, are listed below.

Chief Justice[edit]

Name Term began Time in office Notes
Justice Tom Bathurst AC 1 June 2011 (2011-06-01) 6 years, 25 days [7]

Judges of Appeal[edit]

Name Title Term began Time in office Notes
Justice Margaret Beazley AO President of the Court of Appeal 2 January 2013 (2013-01-02) 4 years, 175 days [8]
Justice Ruth McColl AO Judges of Appeal 29 April 2003 (2003-04-29) 14 years, 58 days [9]
Justice John Basten 2 May 2005 (2005-05-02) 12 years, 55 days
Justice Robert Macfarlan 8 September 2008 (2008-09-08) 8 years, 291 days
Justice Anthony Meagher 10 August 2011 (2011-08-10) 5 years, 320 days
Justice Fabian Gleeson 29 April 2013 (2013-04-29) 4 years, 58 days
Justice Mark Leeming 3 June 2013 (2013-06-03) 4 years, 23 days
Justice Carolyn Simpson 11 June 2015 (2015-06-11) 2 years, 15 days
Justice Anthony Payne 30 March 2016 (2016-03-30) 1 year, 88 days
Justice Peter McClellan AM
Justice Richard White 15 March 2017 (2017-03-15) 103 days

Chief Judge at Common Law[edit]

Name Term began Time in office Notes
Justice Clifton Hoeben AM, RFD 22 February 2013 (2013-02-22) 4 years, 124 days Puisne Judge since 16 August 2004

Chief Judge in Equity[edit]

Name Term began Time in office Notes
Justice Julie Ward 15 March 2017 (2017-03-15) 103 days Puisne Judge since 29 September 2008; Judge of Appeal since 12 November 2012

Acting Judges of Appeal[edit]

Name Term began Time in office Notes
Justice Reginald Ian Barrett 2015 1–2 years
Justice Ronald Sackville
Justice Arthur Emmett 7 March 2013 (2013-03-07) 4 years, 111 days


  • Michael Adams (28 July 1998)
  • Robert McDougall (21 August 2003)
  • (27 April 2004)
  • Peter Johnson (1 February 2005)
  • Peter Hall (8 March 2005)
  • Megan Latham (12 April 2005)
  • Stephen Rothman (3 May 2005)
  • Paul Brereton (15 August 2005)
  • Derek Price (28 August 2006)
  • David Hammerschlag (30 January 2007)
  • Ian Harrison (12 February 2007)
  • Elizabeth Fullerton (19 February 2007)
  • Lucy McCallum (30 January 2008)
  • Nigel Rein (5 May 2008)
  • R A Hulme (2 March 2009)
  • Michael Slattery (25 May 2009)
  • David Davies (29 June 2009)
  • Monica Schmidt (27 July 2009)
  • Michael Pembroke (12 April 2010)
  • Michael Ball (13 April 2010)
  • Peter Garling (7 June 2010)
  • John Sackar (1 February 2011)
  • Ashley Black (4 July 2011)
  • Christine Adamson (17 October 2011)
  • Geoffrey Bellew (31 January 2012)
  • James Stevenson (1 February 2012)
  • Robert Beech-Jones (12 March 2012)
  • Stephen Campbell (2 May 2012)
  • Richard Button (12 June 2012)
  • Geoff Lindsay (6 August 2012)
  • Philip Hallen (12 November 2012; Associate Judge: 5 July 2010)
  • Francois Kunc (8 April 2013)
  • Stephen Robb (20 June 2013)
  • Rowan Darke (16 August 2013)
  • Robertson Wright (25 October 2013)
  • Peter Hamill (29 April 2014)
  • Helen Wilson (3 November 2014)
  • Desmond Fagan (11 June 2015)
  • Natalie Adams (5 April 2016)
  • Michael Walton (8 December 2016)

Acting Judges[edit]

  • R S Hulme (Supreme Court: 2 March 2009)
  • Jane Mathews (Supreme Court: 4 July 1987; Acting Judge since 2001)

Associate Judges[edit]

  • Joanne Harrison

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Second Charter of Justice" (PDF). Founding Documents. Historical Records of Australia. 2 April 1814. p. 10. Retrieved 8 March 2012. 
  2. ^ "Third Charter of Justice". Historical Records of Australia. 13 October 1823. Retrieved 8 March 2012. 
  3. ^ Bennett, J. M. (1974). A History of the Supreme Court of New South Wales. Sydney: The Law Book Co. ISBN 0-455-19240-5. 
  4. ^ Bennett, J. M. (2001). Sir William a'Beckett: First Chief Justice of Victoria 1852-1857. Leichhardt, New South Wales: The Federation Press. ISBN 1-86287-409-3. 
  5. ^ Graham, Sally (2000-05-26). "Setting the Benchmark". Alumni news. Charles Sturt University. Archived from the original on 2005-07-19. Retrieved 2008-02-10. 
  6. ^ "Media Watch" (PDF). Gazette. Sydney, NSW: The University of Sydney. 1999. p. 14. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2008-02-28. Retrieved 2008-02-10. .
  7. ^ Patty, Anna (13 May 2011). "Tom Bathurst appointed NSW Chief Justice". The Sydney Morning Herald. 
  8. ^ Alexander, Harriet (20 December 2012). "First female head to run appeal court". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 8 August 2016. 
  9. ^ "Judicial contacts". Supreme Court of New South Wales. Government of New South Wales. Retrieved 8 August 2016. 

External links[edit]