Supreme Court of New South Wales

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.

Supreme Court of New South Wales
The Supreme Court building in Queen's Square, Sydney
Coordinates33°52′08″S 151°12′42″E
Composition methodVice-regal appointment upon Premier's nomination, following advice of the Attorney General and Cabinet
Authorized byParliament of New South Wales via the:
Appeals to
Appeals fromDistrict Court of New South Wales
Local Court of New South Wales
Judge term lengthMandatory retirement by age of 72
Number of positions52
Chief Justice of New South Wales
CurrentlyJustice Tom Bathurst AC
Since1 June 2011 (2011-06-01)
Chief Judge at Common law
CurrentlyClifton Hoeben AM RFD
Since22 February 2013 (2013-02-22)
Chief Judge in Equity
CurrentlyJulie Ward
Since15 March 2017 (2017-03-15)

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][2]


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.[3]

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.[4] The division existed until 1852, when it was replaced by the Supreme Court of Victoria following the creation of the Colony of Victoria.[5]

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.[6] 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.[7]

Structure and jurisdiction

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, three Acting Judges of Appeal, two Acting Judges, and an Associate Judge. Permanent judges include the Chief Justice of New South Wales, the President of the Court of Appeal, eleven 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.

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.

Court buildings

The Supreme Court of New South Wales was proclaimed in Sydney on 17 May 1824.

Greenway Wing

The inaugural Supreme Court building that is located on the corner of King Street and Elizabeth Street in the Sydney central business district, adjacent to what is now known as Queen's Square, was built between 1820 and 1828. The two-storey rectangular Georgian building, with an additional loggia and cornice added in 1868, was designed by Francis Greenway in 1819 under the direction of Governor Macquarie. This building is now called the Greenway Wing. Greenway was dismissed before the building was completed and its design was so modified by his successor, Standish Lawrence Harris, that the building barely resembles his original design. The building was occupied by the Supreme Court from 1827. In the 1860s James Barnet designed additions for the building including an arcaded loggia along the King Street façade and the new classical cornice and parapet for the roof, giving the structure a Victorian Italianate appearance. The building was added to the New South Wales State Heritage Register on 2 April 1999.[8][9]

Greenway was also responsible for designing the nearby Hyde Park Barracks, recorded on the UNESCO World Heritage List, and St James' Church, listed on the New South Wales State Heritage Register.[10][11][12]

Old Registry Wing

The second structure to house the Court is located immediately the southwest of the Greenway Wing on the corner of Elizabeth Street and St James Road. Designed by Government Architect Alexander Dawson, it is one of only two Government buildings which were designed in the Victorian Free Gothic style, the other being the nearby Land Titles Office. Built between 1859 and 1862 and listed on the New South Wales State Heritage Register on 2 April 1999, the site is now known as the Old Registry Building. Barnet extended the Old Registry building in 1875 and 1886.[13]

Banco Road Court

Designed by Walter Liberty Vernon and built between 1895 and 1896 in the Federation Free Classical style, the two-storey rich red brick Banco Road Court building was the third location of the Supreme Court. The Banco Wing is located to the east of the Old Registry building on St James Road and south of the Greenway Wing and makes little reference to the earlier buildings in either style or detailing. The interior of the courtroom has aesthetic significance and is said to be modelled on St Stephen's Court in Dublin. Despite its naming, the Court is located in St James' Road, opposite the north-western edge of Hyde Park. There is no Banco Road.

Law Courts building

In 1976 the New South Wales Government completed construction of the Sydney Law Courts building, facing Queen's Square and bounded by Phillip Street and Macquarie Street. The 27-storey 33,000-square-metre (360,000 sq ft) building is owned by Law Courts Limited, a company whose shareholders comprise the Government of Australia and the Government of New South Wales. The building houses the High Court of Australia (when it sits in Sydney), the Federal Court of Australia and the NSW Supreme Court. The building was designed by architects McConnel Smith and Johnson and received an RAIA Merit Award in 1977 and stands as a strong, singular statement representative of its time and a product of the brutalist school of architecture. Refurbished in 2009 at a cost of A$214 million, a range of sustainability measures were implemented to extend the life and amenity of the building.[14]


The current judges serving on the Court as of February 2019,[15] and the dates of their appointment, are listed below.

Name Position Appointment
Term in office Comments Notes
Tom Bathurst ACChief Justice1 June 20118 years, 197 days[16][17]
Margaret Beazley AOPresident of the Court of Appeal1 March 201328 February 20195 years, 364 days[18]
Judge of Appeal29 April 199622 years, 305 days
Andrew BellPresident of the Court of Appeal28 February 2019[19]
John BastenJudge of Appeal2 May 200514 years, 227 days
Robert MacfarlanJudge of Appeal8 September 200811 years, 98 days[20]
Anthony MeagherJudge of Appeal10 August 20118 years, 127 days[21]
Clifton Hoeben AM RFDChief Judge at Common law22 February 20136 years, 296 days
Judge16 August 200415 years, 121 days
Julie WardChief Judge in Equity15 March 20172 years, 275 days[22]
Judge of Appeal12 November 20127 years, 33 days
Judge29 September 200811 years, 77 days[23]
Fabian GleesonJudge of Appeal29 April 20136 years, 230 days[24]
Mark LeemingJudge of Appeal3 June 20136 years, 195 days[25]
Anthony PayneJudge of Appeal30 March 20163 years, 260 days
Richard WhiteJudge of Appeal15 March 20172 years, 275 days[22]
Judge27 April 200415 years, 232 days[26]
Paul Brereton AM, RFDJudge of Appeal23 August 20181 year, 114 days[27]
Judge15 August 200514 years, 122 days
Lucy McCallumJudge of Appeal30 January 2019319 days
Judge30 January 200811 years, 319 days
Reginald BarrettActing Judge of Appeal16 March 20163 years, 274 daysRetired at age 71, later appointed as an Acting Judge of Appeal[28][29][30]
Judge of Appeal25 January 201220 April 20153 years, 85 days
Judge19 March 200114 years, 32 days
Arthur Emmett AOActing Judge of Appeal30 September 20154 years, 76 daysJudge of the Federal Court (3 Feb 1997 - 6 Mar 2013)[31]
Judge of Appeal7 March 201330 September 20152 years, 207 days
Ronald Sackville AOActing Judge of Appeal1 September 200811 years, 105 daysJudge of the Federal Court (19 Sep 1994 - 25 Aug 2008)
Carolyn SimpsonActing Judge of Appeal30 March 20181 year, 260 days
Judge of Appeal11 June 201529 March 20182 years, 291 days
Judge22 December 199324 years, 97 days
Michael WaltonJudge8 December 201620 years, 362 days[32]Former Vice President & President of the Industrial Court of NSW
(December 1998 - December 2016)
Peter Johnson1 February 200514 years, 317 days
Stephen Rothman AM3 May 200514 years, 226 days
Derek Price AM28 August 200613 years, 109 days[34]
David Hammerschlag30 January 200712 years, 319 days[35]
Ian Harrison12 February 200712 years, 306 days[36]
Elizabeth Fullerton19 February 200712 years, 299 days[37]
Nigel Rein5 May 200811 years, 224 daysJudge of the District Court (2002 - 4 May 2008)[38]
Robert Hulme2 March 200910 years, 288 days[39]
Michael Slattery25 May 200910 years, 204 daysJudge Advocate General (Australia)[40]
David Davies29 June 200910 years, 169 days[41]
Monika Schmidt27 July 200910 years, 141 daysJudge of the Industrial Court of NSW (1993-2009)[42]
Michael Pembroke12 April 20109 years, 247 days[43]
Michael Ball13 April 20109 years, 246 days[44]
Peter Garling RFD7 June 20109 years, 191 days[45]
John Sackar1 February 20118 years, 317 days[46]
Ashley Black4 July 20118 years, 164 days[47]
Christine Adamson17 October 20118 years, 59 days[48]
Geoffrey Bellew31 January 20127 years, 318 days[28][49]
James Stevenson1 February 20127 years, 317 days[28][50]
Robert Beech-Jones12 March 20127 years, 278 days[51]
Stephen Campbell2 May 20127 years, 227 days[52]
Richard Button12 June 20127 years, 186 days[53]
Geoff Lindsay6 August 20127 years, 131 days[54]
Philip HallenJudge12 November 20127 years, 33 days
Associate Judge5 July 201011 November 20122 years, 129 days[55]
Francois KuncJudge8 April 20136 years, 251 days[56]
Stephen Robb20 June 20136 years, 178 days[57]
Rowan Darke16 August 20136 years, 121 days[58]
Robertson Wright25 October 20136 years, 51 days[59]
Peter Hamill29 April 20145 years, 230 days[60]
Helen Wilson3 November 20145 years, 42 days
Des Fagan11 June 20154 years, 187 days
Natalie Adams5 April 20163 years, 254 days
Julia Lonergan21 March 20172 years, 269 days[22]
Guy Parker6 April 20172 years, 253 days[61]
Kelly Rees5 September 20181 year, 101 days[62]
Lea Armstrong31 October 20181 year, 45 daysFormerly the NSW Crown Solicitor, Appointed as President of the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal[63]
Trish Henry30 January 2019319 days[64]
Mark Ierace31 January 2019318 days[65]
Peter Hidden AMActing JudgeMarch 20163 years, 289 days
Judge16 October 1995February 201624 years, 60 days
Joanne HarrisonAssociate Judge199721–22 years

See also


  1. "Second Charter of Justice" (PDF). Transcribed from Historical Records of Australia. Founding Documents. 2 April 1814. Retrieved 22 October 2018.
  2. "Supreme Court of New South Wales". 19 January 2019. Retrieved 30 January 2019.
  3. "Third Charter of Justice". Historical Records of Australia. 13 October 1823. Archived from the original on 3 April 2007. Retrieved 8 March 2012.
  4. Bennett, J. M. (1974). A History of the Supreme Court of New South Wales. Sydney: The Law Book Co. ISBN 0-455-19240-5.
  5. 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.
  6. Graham, Sally (26 May 2000). "Setting the Benchmark". Alumni news. Charles Sturt University. Archived from the original on 19 July 2005. Retrieved 10 February 2008.
  7. "Media Watch" (PDF). Gazette. Sydney, NSW: The University of Sydney. 1999. p. 14. Archived from the original (PDF) on 28 February 2008. Retrieved 10 February 2008..
  8. "Sydney Supreme Court House (Old Court House)". New South Wales State Heritage Register. Office of Environment and Heritage. H00800. Retrieved 2 June 2018.
  9. "Sydney Supreme Courthouse (Old Supreme Court)". New South Wales Heritage Database. Office of Environment and Heritage. Retrieved 27 August 2018.
  10. "UNESCO World Heritage Centre – World Heritage Committee inscribes seven cultural sites on World Heritage List". UNESCO World Heritage Centre website. United Nations. 31 July 2010. Retrieved 25 October 2017.
  11. "Hyde Park Barracks". New South Wales State Heritage Register. Office of Environment and Heritage. H00190. Retrieved 25 October 2017.
  12. "St. James' Anglican Church". New South Wales State Heritage Register. Office of Environment and Heritage. H01703. Retrieved 17 November 2013.
  13. "Old Registry Office, Sydney Supreme Court House". New South Wales State Heritage Register. Office of Environment and Heritage. H00801. Retrieved 27 August 2018.
  14. Pearse , Stephen (30 July 2009). "Refit does justice to law courts". FM Magazine. Niche Media. Retrieved 27 August 2018.
  15. "Judicial officer contract details". Retrieved 22 February 2019.
  16. Patty, A (13 May 2011). "Tom Bathurst appointed NSW Chief Justice". The Sydney Morning Herald.
  17. "Swearing-In Ceremony of the Honourable TF Bathurst QC". [2011] NSW Judicial Scholarship 17.
  18. Alexander, H (20 December 2012). "First female head to run appeal court". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 8 August 2016.
  19. Speakman, M (23 January 2019). "New President of the NSW Court of Appeal" (PDF). NSW Bar Association. Retrieved 23 January 2019.
  20. "Swearing-In Ceremony of the Honourable Robert Bruce Scott Macfarlan QC". [2008] NSW Judicial Scholarship 20.
  21. "Swearing-In Ceremony of the Honourable Anthony Meagher SC". [2011] NSW Judicial Scholarship 24.
  22. Speakman M, NSW Attorney General (8 March 2017). "New NSW Supreme Court judges appointed".
  23. "Swearing-In Ceremony of the Honourable Julie Ward". [2008] NSW Judicial Scholarship 19.
  24. "Swearing in Ceremony of the Honourable Justice Fabian Gleeson". [2013] NSW Judicial Scholarship 13.
  25. "Swearing-In Ceremony of the Honourable Justice Mark James Leeming SC". [2013] NSW Judicial Scholarship 23.
  26. "Swearing-In Ceremony Of The Honourable Richard Weeks White". [2013] NSW Judicial Scholarship 8.
  27. Speakman, M Attorney-General (22 August 2018). "Justice Brereton to join the Court of Appeal" (PDF). Retrieved 21 September 2018.
  28. Smith, G NSW Attorney-General (8 December 2011). "Judicial Appointments for NSW" (PDF).
  29. "Farewell Ceremony for the Hon Justice R I Barrett" (PDF). NSW Supreme Court. 20 April 2015.
  30. "Swearing in Ceremony of the Honourable Reginald Ian Barrett" (PDF). NSW Supreme Court.
  31. "Swearing in Ceremony of the Honourable Arthur Robert Emmett". [2013] NSW Judicial Scholarship 8.
  32. Justice Walton's service as an IRC judicial member counts towards his service as a Judge of the Supreme Court pursuant to Part 18 of Schedule 4 to the Industrial Relations Act 1996 as inserted by the Industrial Relations Amendment (Industrial Court) Act 2016 (NSW)
  33. "Annual report 1998" (PDF). Industrial Relations Commission of NSW.
  34. "Swearing in Ceremony of the Honourable Derek Michael Price". [2006] NSW Judicial Scholarship 12.
  35. "Swearing in Ceremony of the Honourable David Jacob Hammerschlag". [2007] NSW Judicial Scholarship 1.
  36. "Swearing in Ceremony of the Honourable Ian Gordon Harrison". [2007] NSW Judicial Scholarship 3.
  37. "Swearing in Ceremony of the Honourable Elizabeth Fullerton SC". [2007] NSW Judicial Scholarship 2.
  38. "Swearing-In Ceremony of the Honourable Nigel Rein". [2008] NSW Judicial Scholarship 11.
  39. "Swearing-In Ceremony of the Honourable Robert Hulme". [2009] NSW Judicial Scholarship 5.
  40. "Swearing-In Ceremony of the Honourable Michael Slattery QC". [2009] NSW Judicial Scholarship 9.
  41. "Swearing-In Ceremony of the Honourable David Davies SC". [2009] NSW Judicial Scholarship 10.
  42. Hatzistergos, J (2 July 2009). "Media Release: IR Judge appointed to NSW Supreme Court" (PDF).
  43. "Swearing-In Ceremony of the Honourable Michael Pembroke SC". [2010] NSW Judicial Scholarship 6.
  44. "Swearing-In Ceremony of the Honourable Michael Ball". [2010] NSW Judicial Scholarship 14.
  45. "Swearing-In Ceremony of the Honourable Peter Garling RFD SC". [2010] NSW Judicial Scholarship 13.
  46. "Swearing-In Ceremony of the Honourable John Sackar QC". [2011] NSW Judicial Scholarship 2.
  47. "Swearing-In Ceremony of the Honourable Ashley Black". [2011] NSW Judicial Scholarship 20.
  48. "Swearing-In Ceremony of the Honourable Christine Adamson SC". [2011] NSW Judicial Scholarship 34.
  49. "Swearing-In Ceremony of the Honourable Geoffrey Bellew". [2012] NSW Judicial Scholarship 3.
  50. "Swearing-In Ceremony of the Honourable James Stevenson". [2012] NSW Judicial Scholarship 8.
  51. "Swearing-In Ceremony of the Honourable Robert Beech-Jones". [2012] NSW Judicial Scholarship 15.
  52. "Swearing-In Ceremony of the Honourable Stephen Campbell". [2012] NSW Judicial Scholarship 23.
  53. "Swearing-In Ceremony of the Honourable Richard Button". [2012] NSW Judicial Scholarship 25.
  54. "Swearing-In Ceremony of the Honourable Geoffrey Charles Lindsay". [2012] NSW Judicial Scholarship 31.
  55. "Swearing-In Ceremony of the Honourable Phillip Hallen SC". [2010] NSW Judicial Scholarship 15.
  56. "Swearing-In Ceremony of the Honourable Francois Kunc SC". [2013] NSW Judicial Scholarship 14.
  57. "Swearing-In Ceremony of the Honourable Justice Stephen Robb QC". [2013] NSW Judicial Scholarship 20.
  58. "Swearing in Ceremony of the Honourable Justice Rowan James Hunter Darke SC". [2013] NSW Judicial Scholarship 28.
  59. "Swearing in Ceremony of the Honourable Justice Robertson Wright". [2013] NSW Judicial Scholarship 38.
  60. "Swearing-In Ceremony of the Honourable Peter Hamill SC". [2014] NSW Judicial Scholarship 24.
  61. Speakman, M Attorney-General (15 March 2017). "New NSW Supreme Court judge appointed" (PDF).
  62. Speakman, M Attorney-General (22 August 2018). "Leading female silk elevated from bar to bench" (PDF). Retrieved 21 September 2018.
  63. "Law Society congratulates Lea Armstrong". Retrieved 22 February 2019.
  64. Speakman, M Attorney-General (5 December 2018). "New Supreme Court and Court of Appeal judges" (PDF). Retrieved 28 January 2019.
  65. Speakman, M Attorney-General (21 December 2018). "Senior Public Defender joins the judiciary". Retrieved 28 January 2019.
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