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In 1817, the position of Solicitor for the Crown was created with the appointment of Thomas Wylde. He was the first Crown Solicitor, in the sense of a qualified official retained to do the legal work of the colonial government.
In 1839, two Crown Solicitors were appointed, one to deal with civil matters and the other to deal with criminal matters. Following the advent of responsible government in 1856, these two offices were combined into a single office devoted solely to government work, with the Crown Solicitor having a staff of four clerks. John Williams junior was the first to undertake this role, serving for 32 years from 1859-1891. The Criminal Law work came to be handled by the separate office of the Clerk of the Peace, replaced in 1987 by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
John Varnell Tillett, appointed in 1902 at age 34, was the first Australian-born Crown Solicitor. The Crown Solicitor then had a staff of 33, comprising 21 professional officers, seven clerical officers and five messengers. Regarded as the person who had 'the most State secrets' and as 'right-hand man of each Attorney General', Tillett served 29 years as Crown Solicitor and would later be remembered as 'the perfect public servant'.
Between the early 1960s and the 1970s overall staff numbers doubled from 60 to 120. During the 1990s the operations of the CSO were commercialised and the Crown Solicitor was required to compete with the private legal profession for untied government legal work.
In 1994, Ian Knight was appointed Crown Solicitor and in 1996 he commenced a restructure of the office, converting its four branches to ten specialist practice groups. The office expanded to a staff of nearly 360 and 11 specialist practice groups.
On 24 February 2014, the CSO became a Public Service Executive Agency related to the Department of Attorney General and Justice (now Department of Justice), with the Crown Solicitor as head of the agency under Schedule 1 of the Government Sector Employment Act 2013.
Lea Armstrong was appointed Crown Solicitor in June 2015 (the state’s first female Crown Solicitor), and served until October 2018. Karen Smith commenced as Crown Solicitor on 15 April 2019.
19 Sep 2023
We acknowledge Aboriginal people as the First Nations Peoples of NSW and pay our respects to Elders past, present, and future.
Informed by lessons of the past, Department of Communities and Justice is improving how we work with Aboriginal people and communities. We listen and learn from the knowledge, strength and resilience of Stolen Generations Survivors, Aboriginal Elders and Aboriginal communities.
You can access our apology to the Stolen Generations.