Law & justice in Australia | State Library of New South Wales

Law & justice in Australia

When the First Fleet arrived in Sydney Cove in 1788 they brought English law with them in spirit and printed form. Blackstone's multi-volume Commentaries, which documented and explained the British legal system, was arguably the most important book carried on the First Fleet. The first settlers also came with the authority of the First Charter of Justice, contained in Letters Patent of 2 April 1787, which provided for the establishment of civil and criminal courts in the new Colony.

A Fleet of Transports under Convoy

A fleet of transports under convoy, c.1788, by Carrington Bowles
Mezzotint print, DL Pd 789

Under the rule of the first Governor, Captain Arthur Phillip, administration of British law in the new Colony was quite different from legal practice in England. New South Wales was a penal colony. Although the 1787 Charter of Justice provided for the establishment of civil and criminal courts in the Colony, these were more like military tribunals than English courts of law. Justice was often arbitrary because there was no trial by jury. Those who sat in judgement were generally naval or marine officers who had little practical knowledge of the law.

Captain Arthur Phillip

Captain Arthur Phillip, 1786 , by Francis Wheatley
Oil painting, ML 124

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Law and Justice in Australia
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