NSW solicitors honor Supreme Court's bicentennial

Society president lauds the rich history of the high court

NSW solicitors honor Supreme Court's bicentennial

The Law Society of New South Wales has recognized the Supreme Court of NSW on its 200th anniversary. President Brett McGrath highlighted the long-standing relationship between the state’s solicitors and the court, which began with the court’s establishment on May 17, 1824.

“When the Supreme Court was first established, just six solicitors were admitted to practice in the court of the first Chief Justice, Sir Francis Forbes,” McGrath said. “Today, that number has eclipsed 42,000 practitioners who’ve each sworn an oath to ‘faithfully serve … in the administration of the laws and usages of this State’."

McGrath noted that since 1968, solicitors have been eligible for direct appointment as Justices of the Supreme Court. The late Kim Santow AO was the first solicitor to receive such an appointment in 1993. President of the Court of Appeal Hon Justice Julie Ward, the second most senior judicial officer in NSW, was also a solicitor before her appointment to the bench.

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The Supreme Court has provided an independent application of justice in NSW, upholding common law principles for over a millennium. “Without that independence, maintained since Monday, 17 May 1824, the citizens of NSW would be much poorer,” McGrath stated.

However, McGrath also acknowledged the broader colonial legacy of the Supreme Court, particularly its impact on Aboriginal peoples. He referenced the court’s handling of the Myall Creek massacre as a rare example of early justice for all peoples in New South Wales.

Despite occasional public controversy and professional friction, the Supreme Court has operated without serious incidents over its two centuries. “It works in a complex, efficient, and prodigious capacity with an unbroken heritage,” McGrath said.

The Law Society expressed its gratitude to Chief Justice Hon Andrew Bell for his stewardship of the Supreme Court’s history and his engagement with the solicitor profession during the bicentennial celebrations.

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