Alister Henskens portrait
Alister Henskens portrait

Opening Ceremony Of Court Of Appeal Sittings At Newcastle

Newcastle Courthouse

HENSKENS: Your Honours, this morning the Supreme Court of New South Wales Court of Appeal will, as it usually does, on a week day during the court term, commence to hear an appeal at 10.15am, assisted by the barristers and solicitorsthat appear before it. But today is an important milestone for the history of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, and it is a privilege to represent the Attorney-General to make some observation about the Court sitting today and tomorrow.

The Supreme Court has, of course, heard many criminal trials in Newcastle, and stands ready to hear civil matters in Newcastle if the occasion requires it, but today the Court of Appeal will, for the first time, sit in Newcastle.

This development fits neatly in the arc of Newcastle’s history. As many of you will know, Newcastle began its life as a place of punishment after its European discovery in 1797. Recalcitrant convicts, like those involved in the 1804 Castle Hill Rebellion, were dispatched to Newcastle, where they were put to work in coal mines, in the timber industry, or in producing lime.

Life in early Newcastle in the 19th century was brutal, but there were early green roots of civilisation. The warden of the penal colony, who believed in the enlightenment, with the encouragement of Governor Lachlan Macquarie, commenced the education of the childrenof convicts in 1816, believing that their family background should not determine their future. As a result, Newcastle East Public School was founded in 1816, and today stands as the oldest continuing school in Australia, and one of our nation’s longest continuous
European institutions.

For many years, the likes of Sir William Dobell, Senator Arthur Sinodinos and other students of Newcastle East Public School, including me, were, until the early 1980’s, able to watch, from the windows of the Bolton Street side of the school, barristers and solicitors walk up the hill to the old Newcastle Courthouse. The school has since moved further up the hill to Tyrrell Street, and more recently the Court has moved to this building, more suited to the modern demands of the administration of justice.

It was not until Governor Macquarie determined in 1823 that Newcastle was to no longer be considered as a place of banishment for our felons, but to be favoured with the immunities of the capital, that Newcastle began to start to evolve away from its convict roots headed for the more just and compassionate city that it is today.

So it is fitting that one of the State’s most important repositories of justice comes today to Newcastle, our State’s second largest city, to supplement the course that Newcastle has always taken.

On regional sittings, the Chief Justice has said that holding civil hearings in criminal trials n the area where the event giving rise to the trial took place, or the parties are based, makes it easier for people interested in the matter, and the general community, to attend court and see justice in action.

As the jurisprudence on suppression orders makes it clear, it is vitally important for justice to be dispensed in public, so the community may see first hand a worldleading appellate court like this Court, which plays such an important role in the rule of law in our country.

Interested spectators can be expected to include the students of Newcastle University’s Law School, located near this Court, in this recently created legal precinct.

As the presiding judge has already acknowledged, Novocastrians have a proud history of contribution to the composition of the Court of Appeal. In addition to Justice Michael McHugh and the Chief Judge in Equity, who is sitting this morning, another recent Novocastrian who has been a Justice of Appeal of this Court is the Honourable Reginald Barrett, who was educated at Newcastle Boys’ High School, some distance away from Newcastle Girls’ High School, where Justice Ward was educated.

I know that, by sitting in Newcastle, the Court will make a marked difference, not only to the people involved in today and tomorrow’s appeal, but to the broader Newcastle community.

I thank the Court, its Justices and their staff for its attendance. Your sitting in Newcastle today is very welcome.

If your time permits, I would encourage you to explore Newcastle. A walk along Nobby’s Breakwater, for example, will give you a unique insight into the magnificence of one of the largest working harbours in the world. It is a wonderful city, made even more majestic by the Court’s presence today.

May it please the Court.