The penal colony of New South Wales was officially established by Governor Arthur Phillip on 26 January 1788. Among the proclamations he read to the assembled convicts and officers were the Letters Patent of 1787, the first Charter of Justice, which authorised the establishment of courts of justice. These courts were soon found to be inadequate because of the lack of legal practitioners and increased demand for commercial and civil justice from the burgeoning population of free settlers.
In 1814, new courts with civil jurisdiction were established, presided over by Mr Justice Bent, the Deputy Judge Advocate. The Letters Patent which formalised their establishment have been referred to as the second Charter of Justice.
Public dissatisfaction with the legal system in the colony continued and in 1819, John Thomas Bigge, a barrister of the Inner Temple in London, was appointed by the British Government as a Commissioner to conduct an enquiry into various aspects of the administration of the Colony. One of the areas of his investigation was the Colony's judicial system for which he proposed a radical overhaul, as part of his reform of colonial administration.
Francis Forbes, previously Chief Justice of Newfoundland drafted new legislation which was passed by the British Government. Among its provisions were the establishment of a Supreme Court of New South Wales and the appointment of a Chief Justice and other officers necessary for the administration of the Court. This document was the third
Charter of Justice.
The 17 May 1999 marks the 175th Anniversary of the Supreme Court of New South Wales. On that day in 1824, the Supreme Court of New South Wales was established by an official reading of the Charter of Justice. Since then, the Court has continued to exercise full jurisdiction in civil and criminal matters based on the provisions of that Charter.