The Supreme Court is the highest court in NSW. Established by the 1823 Charter of Justice, it now operates under the Supreme Court Act (1970) and the Civil Procedure Act 2005. The Court has unlimited civil jurisdiction and handles the most serious criminal matters.
Court of Appeal
The Court’s judicial work is carried out by 48 Judges and 4 Associate Judges. Associate Judges deal with the less complex matters and trials not involving a jury. Limited judicial powers, involving issues that arise as parties progress cases towards a hearing, are exercised by some Registrars, some of whom are qualified mediators.
There are two Divisions in the Supreme Court and its work is divided between them. They are the Common Law Division and the Equity Division (as of 1 July 1999). Each has a Chief Judge.
Matters heard in the Supreme Court are generally listed for hearing several weeks in advance. For urgent applications a Duty Judge is available. A roster is published weekdays in the Sydney Morning Herald Law Notices section in the daily Court lists. After hours the Duty Judge can be contacted for the most urgent applications through the Law Courts Security Desk on (02) 9230 8025.
Supreme Court historical information can be found on our History page. This page contains detailed information in respect to the Charter of Justice, former Chief Justices, Attorneys General, Sheriffs and the History of our Buildings.
What does the work of the Court involve?
The Court of Appeal is the highest civil court in the State. It hears appeals from civil proceedings before:
- the Supreme Court;
- the District Court;
- the Land and Environment Court; and
- some tribunals.
With occasional exceptions, the Judges who make up the Court of Appeal are the Chief Justice, the President of the Court of Appeal and the nine Judges of Appeal. The time available for the Chief Justice to sit on the Court of Appeal is limited because he has other responsibilities, in particular the Court of Criminal Appeal.
Most appeals are heard by three Judges, but some are heard by two, and in special cases, they may be heard by more than three. If the Judges cannot agree, the majority view prevails. Matters arising before the appeal can be heard and dealt with by a single Judge of Appeal or the Registrar.
To appeal to the High Court from the Court of Appeal, a special permission must be granted by the High Court.
>> also see Court of Appeal decisions, procedures and research tools
Court of Criminal Appeal
The Court of Criminal Appeal is the State’s highest court for criminal matters. A person who has been convicted or who pleaded guilty and been sentenced by a Supreme Court or District Court Judge, may appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeal.
Appeals may also be brought from decisions of the Land and Environment Court in its criminal jurisdiction.
Appeals are generally heard by three Judges, although five Judges may sit when significant legal issues need to be considered. The majority view prevails. When sentence appeals do not involve a dispute on any issue of legal principle, only 2 judges need to sit.
The Judges hearing any particular case are selected from the Chief Justice, the President of the Court of Appeal, the Judges of Appeal, the Chief Judge and other nominated Judges of the Common Law Division.
There are a number of grounds for appeal including a challenge to a conviction involving a question of law. The Court of Criminal Appeal may also grant leave to appeal in matters involving questions of fact or mixed questions of fact and law. It may also grant leave to appeal in cases where the severity or adequacy of the sentence is challenged.
To appeal to the High Court from the Court of Criminal Appeal, a special permission must be granted by the High Court.
Common Law Division
The Common Law Division deals with civil, criminal and administrative law matters.
- claims for damages for personal injury;
- breach of contract;
- professional negligence;
- possession of land; and
Certain types of cases, such as defamation and professional negligence, are dealt with in specialised lists to enable judges to supervise their progress to trial. Other matters are subject to general case management.
Judges preside over criminal trials for the most serious offences. Criminal matters include:
- murder & manslaughter;
- attempted murder;
- major conspiracy and drug related charges; and
- Commonwealth prosecutions for the more serious breaches of the Corporations Law.
The Supreme Court can also hear bail applications in relation to cases in the Court or in other Courts. On such applications, the Court will consider a person’s entitlement to bail and any conditions which should be attached to it. For more details on bail, see the brochures in this series on Bail and Sureties.
Administrative law matters
These cases involve a legal challenge to decisions of Government Ministers, officials and organisations. The Court may make orders requiring official duties to be performed, decision making to be properly carried out, or may restrain illegal or invalid administrative action.
The Equity Division hears equity, probate, commercial, admiralty and protective matters.
These include claims for civil relief which does not involve the recovery of debts or damages. Examples include:
- claims for injunctions to restrain wrongful conduct;
- claims to have contracts specifically enforced or set aside;
- claims to have rights to property (including land and intellectual property) declared and enforced;
- claims relating to the administration of corporations;
- trusts; and
- applications under the Property Relationships Act (1984), Adoption Act (2000) and the Succession Act 2006.
Probate / deceased estate matters
These are generally about the validity or interpretation of a will or the administration of an estate of a deceased person.
These arise out of commercial transactions involving substantial amounts of money or issues of importance to trade and commerce, or substantial building and engineering contracts.
These matters involve disputes relating to ships or their cargoes.
These include applications involving the admission of patients to psychiatric hospitals or the management of the affairs of persons incapable of managing them on their own.
Where is the Court's work carried out?
Proceedings in the Court of Appeal, the Court of Criminal Appeal, the Common Law division and the Equity division are held in any one of the following locations:
- Law Courts Building, Queens Square, Sydney
- St James Road Court, St James Road, Sydney
- King Street Courthouse, Corner King and Elizabeth Streets, Sydney
- Darlinghurst Courthouse, Taylor Square, Sydney
- Wentworth Chambers, 180 Phillip Street, Sydney
- Hospital Road Court Complex, Hospital Road, Sydney
Criminal and civil trials may be conducted at regional centres throughout New South Wales, as and when the need arises.
The Court’s Registry is in Sydney. Sub-Registries are located Newcastle, Wollongong, Lismore, Orange and Wagga Wagga.
*Please note that any information contained on this website is intended as a guide to the law and should not be used as a substitute for legal advice.