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Examiners of the Supreme Court (1834 - 1877) Solicitors Admission Board (1877 - 1994)

State Records Authority of New South Wales
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The Australian Courts Act, 1828 (9 Geo. IV, c. 83) provided for the Supreme Court to make rules for admission of "Attorneys, Solicitors and Barristers", subject to a right of disallowance in the Crown. An Admission Rule announced on 5 September 1829 provided for the profession to be divided into two branches, only barristers and advocates from Great Britain and Ireland were eligible for admission to the Bar, while solicitors could only be drawn from -

* Solicitors in Great Britain and Ireland
* Persons who had served five years of clerkship to a practicing solicitor or attorney in New South Wales.
* Persons who had served five years of clerkship partly in England and partly in New South Wales
* Persons who had served five years as a Clerk in the Office of the Supreme Court

The Crown approved these rules in 1834 (1) with adding a number of additional procedures. Those wishing to become article clerks had to pass an introduction interview before the Judges of the Supreme Court where proof of their age, tuition, and academic achievements were checked. The Supreme Court also appointed the Master in Equity, a barrister and two attorneys as Examiners who vetted applicants' suitability for admission.

Under the 1877 Rules an applicant for articles of clerkship had to be aged 17 years or over, be introduced and approved by the Judges of the Supreme Court, produce satisfactory certificates attesting to his character, and have passed a matriculation examination at the University of Sydney. The articles were to be for a period of five years but could be reduced to three in the case of Bachelor or Master of Arts within the University of Sydney. Attorneys or solicitors from Great Britain and Ireland plus the other Australasian colonies meeting "acceptable standards" were also eligible for admission. Intermediate legal examinations could be undertaken in Great Britain and Ireland with the Final Examination done in New South Wales. Persons who had completed five years in certain positions in the Office of the Supreme Court or of the Crown Solicitor and who had passed the Final Examination were also entitled to admission.

A Board of Examiners was established to conduct all examinations in law. This was to comprise two barristers and four solicitors to be annually appointed by the Court. This Board came to be known as the Solicitors Admission Board and was so described in the Law Almanacs, although the Rules did not establish a Board by this name until 1 January 1953. (2)

In 1897 the Professor of Law at the University of Sydney became an ex officio member of the Board of Examiners holding the position of President. In 1902 new Rules provided that the Board of Examiners should comprise
two barristers,
three solicitors and
a President (either the Professor of Law at the University of Sydney or a person selected by the Judges of the Supreme Court).

In 1911 the number of barristers was increased to three, and the composition of the Board continued to be the President, three barristers and three solicitors until the establishment of the Solicitors Admission Board in 1953.

The classes of persons eligible for admission as solicitors was gradually enlarged to include a variety of persons serving in solicitors' offices and in Court and Government legal offices. Various conditions were attached to the eligibility of public servants in terms of examinations (under the Public Service Act) passed, attainment of 30 years of age, and tenure as dedicated legal officers. In some cases this included the successful completion of the Intermediate Law Examination and always the Final Examination in Law.

In 1900, persons with ten years of clerkship service in the offices of one or more solicitors practicing in New South Wales and had been a managing clerk for at least five years were granted the right to admission on passing the Law Examinations. Until 1921, however, permission to sit for the first of the examinations lay with the Judges of the Supreme Court. At no time did the Solicitors Admission Rules make provision for the eligibility for clerkship of persons who had not passed any matriculation or equivalent examination.

The Solicitors Admission Board was constituted by Rule 5 of the Solicitors Admission Rules "for the approval or properly qualified persons to be admitted as solicitors. It consisted of the Judges of the Supreme Court and two practising solicitors appointed annually by the Council of the Law Society. Rules that related to the admission of solicitors resulted from the resolutions of the Solicitors Admission Board although matters were referred to the Judges' Education Committee for its opinion. (The Judges' Education Committee was an internal committee of the Supreme Court consisting of two judges of appeal and three other Supreme Court Judges). Under section 12A of the Solicitors Admission Rules the judges of the Supreme Court or "any three of them" could have made rules with respect to the admission of solicitors. Many decisions of the Solicitors Admission Board were made over the signature of three judges acting in the exercise of the power in section 12A. All Rules were gazetted and were subject to disallowance by either House of the New South Wales Parliament.

The rules for article clerkships (in terms of time to be served) were amended from the late 1960s onwards to accommodate the category of student-clerk, new universities, the length of particular law degrees, and the establishment of the College of Law (1974). The Solicitors Admissions Board. The Solicitors Admission Board also determined new clerkship periods for individuals who worked for solicitors' or other legal offices.

From 1 January 1988 the Legal Profession Act, 1987 (Act No 109 1987) reduced the number of members of the Solicitors Admission Board from 39 (all of the Justices of the Supreme Court allowed under the Legal Practitioners Act, 1898 (Act No. 22 1898) to six. The new members were three Supreme Court Judges, two practising solicitors, and the Attorney General or his representative. (3)

The Solicitors Admission Board laid down requirements relating to character, education (legal and general), legal skills, and legal experience, which must be met to render a person eligible for admission. Flowing from this role the Solicitors Admission Board would establish that these standards had been met in an acceptable manner. The actual function of admitting persons fell within the province of the Supreme Court. Certain functions relating to the maintenance of rolls and issue of certificates for solicitors previously carried out by the Supreme Court Registry were transferred to the Solicitors Admission Boards on 4 January 1993. (4)

By 1993 the Solicitors Admission Board performed a role in the Information and Regulation Program of the Attorney General's Department (5). The following year the agency was placed in the 'Regulation of the Legal Profession' program (6)

The Legal Practitioners Admission Board replaced the Solicitors Admission Board on 1 July 1994 taking over its role to approve properly qualified persons as solicitors, along with all its assets and liabilities. (7)

Endnotes:
(1) HRA 6 June 1834 Series I Volume XVII page 453 - Allowance of rule for division of legal profession.
(2) Supreme Court Rules - Solicitors Admission Rules - 1952.
(3) Annual Report of the Attorney General's Department for the year ended 30 June 1998 p. 118.
(4) Annual Report of the Attorney General's Department for the year ended 30 June 1995 p. 70.
(5) Annual Report of the Attorney General's Department for the year ended 30 June 1993 p.15, 57, 69-72
(6) Annual Report of the Attorney General's Department for the year ended 30 June 1994 p. 5, 39,
(7) Annual Report of the Attorney General's Department for the year ended 30 June 1993 page 131
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