Supreme Court

Judicial officers

The judicial officers of the Supreme Court of New South Wales are its judges, associate judges and for some purposes, registrars. Judicial appointments are made on the basis of a legal practitioner's integrity, high level of legal skills and the depth of his or her practical experience.

Judges

Section 25 of the Supreme Court Act 1970 provides that the Court is to be composed of:

  • the Chief Justice
  • the President of the Court of Appeal
  • Judges of Appeal
  • Judges
  • Associate Judges

Section 27 of the Act also provides for the appointment a Chief Judge to each of the Court's Common Law and Equity Divisions, whose respective titles are the Chief Judge at Common Law and the Chief Judge in Equity. The Chief Judges administer the work in their Division.

All of these judicial officers are appointed by the Governor of NSW. Most of the Judges hold permanent appointments until the age of 72, but from time to time there may be acting judges with temporary appointments.

The Chief Justice, the President and the nine judges of appeal sit in the Court of Appeal. There are 39 permanent judges in the Supreme Court's trial divisions, including the Chief Judge at Common Law and Chief Judge in Equity, and three associate judges.

You can find a list of the Court's current judicial officers on the Contact Us page.

Associate Judges

The Governor also appoints associate judges of the court. Associate judges hear applications which arise before trial, certain types of trial work and proceedings that a judge or the Court of Appeal may refer to them. There are three associate judges.

Applications which arise before trial include:

  • applications for summary judgment
  • applications for dismissal of proceedings
  • applications for extensions of time to commence proceedings under various Acts
  • applications for review of decisions of registrars.

In the Common Law Division, associate judges conduct civil trials of actions and possession of property. They also hear appeals from the Local Court, the Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal and conduct judicial reviews. Associate judges do not hear jury trials. 

Registrars

The Court has several Registrars and Deputy Registrars. Registrars have limited judicial powers, defined by the Supreme Court Act 1970, and the rules of court. Registrars determine applications made before a trial when identifying the issues in dispute, including applications in relation to the discovery and inspection of documents, interrogatories and subpoenas. Registrars issue court orders, enter default judgments and issue writs of execution. They deal with a range of matters under the Corporations Law, including the dissolution of companies and the examination of company officers. Registrars also conduct examinations under the Criminal Assets Recovery Act 1990 and the Proceeds of Crime Act 1987 (Commonwealth).

In the Common Law Division registrars conduct pre-trial conferences to ensure that cases are ready for trial.

Registrars who are appropriately qualified are also available to mediate cases referred to them by the court.

What powers are exercised by Judicial officers?

Judicial officers:

  • hear cases
  • establish the relevant facts
  • decide questions of law that may arise � such as whether certain evidence is admissible
  • decide how the law applies to the case
  • give reasons which explain the decision.

Our courts are responsible for upholding the rights of individuals. Judicial officers interpret the laws made by Parliament and apply the common law. In making decisions judicial officers follow precedent � they make decisions based on what earlier courts have decided was the law when similar facts were presented. The approach ensures that, when most legal disputes arise, depending on the facts, an outcome can be predicted with a degree of certainty.

Judicial officers sometimes have to decide the law which applies to a completely new situation. If there is no legislation covering the area, they have to decide what the law should be. When courts do this, they are said to be developing the common law. Such decisions are made in the context of legal precedent and are not determined by public opinion or political expediency.

One of the ways in which judicial officers are made accountable is that, with few exceptions, the court proceedings are conducted in public. Members of the public and the media are entitled to be present when a court is sitting. 

What restrictions are there on a judicial officer's powers?

The court is entrusted with significant powers and responsibilities to determine the cases that come before it. There are some limitations on what it can do.

If you don't like a law in NSW

There are limitations on the capacity of the court to change the law. Substantial changes to the law are generally a matter for Parliament rather than the courts. Concerns about a law should not be addressed to the Chief Justice or to any other judicial officer. Judicial officers do not make the law  � they apply it.

Judges must apply the laws in force at the time and only comment when they are deciding a case. Judges need to determine cases according to law, regardless of who is involved. A judge who makes general comments on the government and its law making policies might be considered biased. Judges do not comment on government policy.
Such concerns should, accordingly, be directed to the Government Minister responsible for the particular subject matter or to your local MP.

If you are concerned about a particular decision

Our legal system requires judicial officers to be independent of the government. Magistrates, judges and juries cannot be told how to decide cases or when to hear them. This principle is enshrined in the Constitution Act 1902.

The only way to have a court decision changed is by an appeal to a higher court. Once a case has been determined by a judicial officer, it cannot be reviewed by a higher court unless an appeal is formally lodged. The judicial officer determining the matter is said to be functus officio and is prevented from considering the matter further. This ensures that the parties to a particular matter know that, if there is no appeal lodged within the allowed time, the issue between them has been finalised. 

If you need legal advice

In keeping with the need for a fair and impartial justice system, the Chief Justice and the judges of the court cannot become involved in court proceedings other than the case they are hearing. If you disagree with the way in which a court case is going, or with the verdict, you should speak to your lawyer about the options available to you. If you are not able to afford legal assistance, staff of the court's registry will assist by providing you with information about agencies or community based organisations which may be able to assist you.

If you believe a crime may have been committed

The court is not able to independently investigate allegations that an offence may have been committed. That is generally the role of the NSW Police. Based on their inquiries, the Director of Public Prosecutions may be asked to advise whether a criminal charge could be successfully prosecuted. For example, if there is an allegation that a person's sworn evidence given before a court may be untruthful (perjury), the matter should be referred to NSW Police.

If you have a complaint about a lawyer

The court has a general supervisory role in relation to the conduct of practitioners appearing before it but it does not have any independent investigative powers. The Chief Justice and the judges of the court are not able to decide whether lawyers have done the best they can for their clients unless the Legal Services Commissioner brings a case to the court. Complaints about the conduct of legal practitioners should be made to the Office of the Legal Services Commissioner

Can complaints be made about Judicial Officers?

The Judicial Commission is responsible for considering complaints about judicial officers. The Commission will not act on frivolous complaints and will not deal with complaints relating to the exercise of a judicial function that is subject to appeal rights. Serious complaints, if substantiated, could justify the Parliament considering removal of the judicial officer from office.

The Commission also has an educative role and issues bulletins to judicial officers to keep them informed about a range of issues. These include sentencing trends and discrimination of various kinds.

Further information about the Commission's complaints process is available on the Judicial Commission's website