Supreme Court of the Northern Territory



The Supreme Court of the Northern Territory is the superior court for the
Australia Australia, officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a sovereign country comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands. With an area of , Australia is the largest country b ...
Territory A territory is an area of land, sea, or space, particularly belonging or connected to a country, person, or animal. In international politics, a territory is usually either the total area from which a state may extract power resources or an ...
of the Northern Territory. It has unlimited jurisdiction within the territory in civil matters, and hears the most serious
criminal In ordinary language, a crime is an unlawful act punishable by a state or other authority. The term ''crime'' does not, in modern criminal law, have any simple and universally accepted definition,Farmer, Lindsay: "Crime, definitions of", in C ...
matters. It is around the middle of the
Australian court hierarchy The judiciary of Australia comprises judges who sit in federal courts and courts of the States and Territories of Australia. The High Court of Australia sits at the apex of the Australian court hierarchy as the ultimate court of appeal on matt ...

Early history

Shortly after the first settlement at Palmerston,
Port Darwin Port Darwin is the port in Darwin, Northern Territory, in northern Australia. The port has operated in a number of locations, including Stokes Hill Wharf, Cullen Bay and East Arm Wharf. In 2015, a 99-year lease was granted to the Chinese-owned ...
in 1869–70, pressure was placed upon the
South Australian government The Government of South Australia, also referred to as the South Australian Government, SA Government or more formally, His Majesty’s Government, is the Australian state democratic administrative authority of South Australia. It is modelled o ...
to establish a superior court in the then Northern Territory of South Australia. Although such a court was mooted, it was decided to send judges to Palmerston on circuit. The first circuit court was held in February 1875. Thereafter, from 1875 to 1884, the government appointed persons as commissioners (usually the Government Resident) to exercise the power of a judge of the
Supreme Court of South Australia The Supreme Court of South Australia is the superior court of the Australian state of South Australia. The Supreme Court is the highest South Australian court in the Australian court hierarchy. It has unlimited jurisdiction within the stat ...
in all but trials of capital offences. From 1884 to 1911, a resident judge, with the title "Judge of the Northern Territory" exercised the full powers of the Supreme Court of South Australia under the Northern Territory Justice Act.


The court was established on 30 May 1911, shortly after
South Australia South Australia (commonly abbreviated as SA) is a state in the southern central part of Australia. It covers some of the most arid parts of the country. With a total land area of , it is the fourth-largest of Australia's states and territories ...
surrendered the territory to the
Commonwealth A commonwealth is a traditional English term for a political community founded for the common good. Historically, it has been synonymous with " republic". The noun "commonwealth", meaning "public welfare, general good or advantage", dates from th ...
. The first judge of the court was Samuel James Mitchell. The only person to hold the office of Chief Judge, which was created in 1975, was Sir William Forster who held the position from 1977-1979. The position title was changed to Chief Justice in 1979, and Forster was the first Chief Justice from 1979-1985. There have been 6 Chief Justices since 197

There are currently six resident judges (including the Chief Justice) and two additional judges and two acting judges, making a total of ten Supreme Court justices

In 1927, when the ''Northern Australia 1926 Act (Cth)'' came into force, the Northern Territory was divided into two territories; North Australia (territory), North Australia and
Central Australia Central Australia, also sometimes referred to as the Red Centre, is an inexactly defined region associated with the geographic centre of Australia. In its narrowest sense it describes a region that is limited to the town of Alice Springs and ...
. The Supreme Court was not abolished, but continued to exist as the Supreme Court of North Australia and the Supreme Court of Central Australia. After the Northern Territory Act was repealed in 1931, the Northern Territory was reconstituted as a single Territory of the Commonwealth. The Supreme Court of Central Australia was abolished and the Supreme Court of North Australia continued as the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory. In 1935 the Court began its first sittings on circuit in
Alice Springs Alice Springs ( aer, Mparntwe) is the third-largest town in the Northern Territory of Australia. Known as Stuart until 31 August 1933, the name Alice Springs was given by surveyor William Whitfield Mills after Alice, Lady Todd (''née'' Al ...
a practice which still continues today. Circuit sittings in Katherine, Northern Territory, Katherine were also introduced in 1996. When a new Supreme Court complex was built, Indigenous artist
Norah Nelson Napaljarri Norah Nelson Napaljarri (born 26 October 1956) is a Warlpiri-speaking Aboriginal artist from Australia's Western Desert region. Norah Nelson began painting in 1986 and has exhibited her works both in Australia and other countries. Her paintin ...
was chosen to design a mosaic for its forecourt. The design concept of the Supreme Court, as requested by the client the Northern Territory Government, was to reflect the elements of the " Greek Revival" Hong Kong Shanghai Bank constructed in Hong Kong in the 1800s viz: the
colonnade In classical architecture, a colonnade is a long sequence of columns joined by their entablature, often free-standing, or part of a building. Paired or multiple pairs of columns are normally employed in a colonnade which can be straight or curv ...
around the building, the mansard roof and the
portico A portico is a porch leading to the entrance of a building, or extended as a colonnade, with a roof structure over a walkway, supported by columns or enclosed by walls. This idea was widely used in ancient Greece and has influenced many cult ...
entrance as well as giving reference to its tropical location and its colonial past. The collaborating architects were Peter Doig, Ron Findlay and Roger Linklater: the interior was designed by Susie Cole. The architectural style is best described as Neo-colonial.


The Supreme Court occasionally sits in other locations in the Northern Territory, including Katherine, Northern Territory, Katherine,
Tennant Creek Tennant Creek ( wrm, Jurnkkurakurr) is town located in the Northern Territory of Australia. It is the seventh largest town in the Northern Territory, and is located on the Stuart Highway, just south of the intersection with the western termi ...
Nhulunbuy Nhulunbuy () is a township that is the sixth largest population centre in the Northern Territory of Australia. Nhulunbuy was created on the Gove Peninsula in north-east Arnhem Land when a bauxite mine and a deep water port were establis ...
. The Supreme Court has also on occasion sat at remote aboriginal communities. The Supreme Court includes the Court of Appeal, Court of Criminal Appeal, Civil and Criminal Trials and Appeals from the Northern Territory Magistrates Court

Judgments from Supreme Court trials are available to the publi

as are the sentencing remark

unless a suppression order has been taken preventing these being released (for example, involving juveniles, public figures or in some controversial matters).

Judges of the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory

As at November 2019 (appointment date in brackets):

Chief Justice


Additional Judges

Acting Judges


See also

Family Court of Australia The Family Court of Australia was a superior Australian federal court of record which deals with family law matters, such as divorce applications, parenting disputes, and the division of property when a couple separate. Together with the Fede ...
Federal Court of Australia The Federal Court of Australia is an Australian superior court of record which has jurisdiction to deal with most civil disputes governed by federal law (with the exception of family law matters), along with some summary (less serious) and indic ...
* Judiciary of Australia * List of Judges of the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory


External links

The Northern Territory Supreme Court Website

Sentencing Principles
{{Authority control Buildings and structures in Darwin, Northern Territory 1911 establishments in Australia Courts and tribunals established in 1911