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NSW courts will have fresh faces at the helm from next month, after a new Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and President of the Court of Appeal were announced on Wednesday.

President of the NSW Court of Appeal Justice Andrew Bell has been announced to succeed Chief Justice Tom Bathurst when he retires on 5 March. Chief Justice Bathurst led the Supreme Court for almost 11 years.

NSW Attorney General Mark Speakman said Justice Bell’s “renowned intellect and leadership” on the Court of Appeal bench made him a worthy successor, while paying tribute to Bathurst’s remarkable legacy.

“Chief Justice Bathurst has made an outstanding contribution to the law, both before and during his term in office. His Honour deserves the gratitude of the people of NSW for his work which has in no small way helped to maintain public confidence in the justice system,” Speakman said.

“I am confident that despite his impending retirement, Chief Justice Bathurst will make further significant contributions to the law in this state.”

Before being appointed President of the Court of Appeal in 2019, Justice Bell had an extensive career at the Bar spanning almost 25 years. He took silk in 2006. His legal career began with two consecutive terms as judge’s associates, including to then-Chief Justice of Australia Sir Anthony Mason.

Bell also has a score of academic achievements including two University Medals from Sydney University, a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University, first place there in the (post-graduate) Bachelor of Civil Law and a doctorate there.

President of the Law Society of NSW, Joanne van der Plaat, congratulated Justice Bell on what she said was “this most fitting appointment as the highest ranking judicial officer in NSW”.

“When His Honour was first appointed to the bench, he was described by solicitors and fellow counsel alike as one of the most brilliant lawyers of his generation. Since then, his leadership and intellect have truly been the hallmarks of his time on the bench,” President van der Plaat said.

“This is an excellent appointment and the people of NSW can trust that the administration of justice in this state will be in safe hands. I wish His Honour every success as Chief Justice.”

New President of the NSW Court of Appeal

Filling the shoes of Justice Bell will be current Chief Judge in Equity the Honourable Justice Julie Ward. Justice Ward will succeed Bell as the President of the NSW Court of Appeal and become the second highest ranking judicial officer in the state.

Justice Ward was the first female solicitor appointed directly to the Supreme Court of NSW in 2008, where she sat in the Equity Division, before becoming a Judge of Appeal in 2012 and Chief Judge in Equity in 2017. She spent 26 years as a solicitor in commercial litigation prior to her career on the bench.

“Her Honour has been a trail blazer in both the legal profession and the judiciary and a champion for the advancement of women in the law,” President van der Plaat said. “I am delighted that her enormous talent and skills have been recognised with this appointment.”

The Attorney General also used the term “trailblazer” to commend Justice Ward.

“Justice Ward has been a trailblazer for both women and the solicitor branch of the profession throughout her career,” he said.

“NSW is fortunate to have such extraordinary lawyers willing to serve the people of this state through leading its highest court.”