Communities and Justice

History of the Law Courts Library

The Law Courts Library was established in 1977. It incorporates the original Supreme Court collection, some of which predates the establishment of the court in 1824. The older books came from England, where they were selected and packed for transportation to the fledgling colony up to six sailing months away.   After the original Supreme Court building was completed in 1829, the library collection (known as the Supreme Court Library) was housed in various books rooms within the building.

Image of Sir James Martin

The collection initially comprised the Judge-Advocate's library, which was subsequently supplemented by the private collections of the first judges.

In 1842, the judges of the day attempted to secure funds for the library by levying fees on practitioners. However, the government of the time placed obstacles in the way of releasing the revenue raised. Bennett reports that "the Colonial Secretary saw no objection to establishing a law library, but had to insist that the fees be paid into Treasury for allocation by vote of the Legislative Council".  [1]

The revenue was not made available, and William Charles Wentworth lent his own law books to the Supreme Court. Many of these works remain housed today in the Rare Books Room, such as the collection of nominate law reports and texts. 

Former Chief Justice Sir James Martin's Library was subsequently acquired by the Government on his death in 1886, and a large volume of old law reports was purchased from former Chief Justice Sir Frederick Darley’s estate after his death in 1910.

Discussions about a joint library date back to the 1960s. In 1974, a Library Planning Committee recommended a joint library be created when the new joint Law Courts building was built. In 1975, agreement was reached between the Commonwealth of Australia and the State of New South Wales to jointly fund a shared library in the law courts building.

The current joint Law Courts Building was constructed in 1977, and the new Law Courts Library opened in that year. Apart from the Supreme Court Library, the collection also comprises the Commonwealth contribution of the Australian Industrial Court Library. 

The Library collection continues to acquire materials from the major common law jurisdictions. There is also an increasing focus on collecting material from south east Asia.

The Law Courts Library today provides services NSW courts and tribunals, Commonwealth courts in the Law Courts Building and the NSW Department of Communities and Justice. It has an extensive hard copy collection and a comprehensive range of electronic legal resources.

[1] J M Bennett, A History of Supreme Court of New South Wales, Sydney , Law Book Company, 1974,  p.187

Last updated:

08 Nov 2023

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