History of the Supreme Court

Establishment of the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory was established as a superior court of record by the Seat of Government Supreme Court Act 1933 which commenced on 1 January 1934. The principal reason behind the establishment of a Supreme Court was to relieve the High Court of its original jurisdiction in respect to the Australian Capital Territory and to provide an intermediate court of appeal between the Court of Petty Sessions. Justice Lionel Oscar Lukin was appointed a Judge of the Supreme Court on 25 January 1934 and remained the sole judge of the Court until November 1943.

The first sitting of the Court was held at Acton House Courthouse on 12 February 1934.

The Supreme Court occupied its present accommodation when the Law Courts Building, situated in Knowles Place on the Western side of City Hill, was opened by Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, in 1963. The first sittings of the Court in its new premises took place on 9 May 1963.

The ACT Supreme Court, Law Courts Building, Knowles Place, Canberra

The Law Courts Building (Supreme Court) was built for the National Capital Development Commission by Clements Langford (Canberra) Pty. Ltd. Although designed of contemporary materials and construction techniques, the building follows traditional lines of court architecture. Its exterior walls are of polished grey Wombeyan marble, with replicas of the Australian coat-of-arms above the two main entrances. A notable feature of the building is the glass-sided open atrium extending the height of the two-storey building. A significant feature of the courtrooms on the ground floor is the use of timbers donated by, and representative of, the six States of the Commonwealth. Each State provided timber for the panelling and furniture of one of the six courts as follows:

  • New South Wales – Red Cedar;
  • Victoria – Mountain Ash;
  • Western Australia – Jarrah;
  • Queensland – Silky Oak;
  • South Australia – Red Gum; and
  • Tasmania – Blackwood.

Heritage and the new Project

The heritage aspect of the project presented some unique challenges for the project.

The project heritage objective is to achieve a design solution which provides a high quality courts facility which will serve the needs of the ACT community well into the future whilst conserving, celebrating and interpreting the heritage significance of the building in a vibrant and creative manner.

In 2013, the Territory commissioned Philip Leeson Architects Pty Ltd to undertake a heritage assessment and produce a conservation plan for the Project (Conservation Management Plan). This plan was endorsed by the ACT Heritage Council on 14 January 2013 and provides guidelines for the development of the Site.

The significant heritage attributes of the existing Supreme Court building as identified in the Conservation Management Plan include:

  • the exterior façade including the overall building form;
  • podium and planters;
  • marble cladding;
  • window and door openings;
  • decorative window grilles;
  • steel columns with integrated copper downpipes;
  • deep fascia and overhanging soffit;
  • gilded Commonwealth coat of arms above each entry;
  • the internal atrium; and
  • the timber panelling and information plaques in each courtroom donated by each State of Australia.

The design responds to the heritage requirements by maintain and conserving this valuable and beautiful piece of Canberra’s history for the future generations.


  1. http://www.courts.act.gov.au/supreme/
  2. Conservation Management Plan