Anatole France once referred to the “majestic equality” of the law which forbade the rich, as well as the poor, to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets and to steal bread. Over recent decades, legal systems throughout the world have come to recognise that both access to, and the delivery of, justice requires understanding of and sensitivity to the special requirements and disabilities of particular sections of the community.

In this respect, the operation of the legal system applies the traditional principle of Aristotelian ethics — that injustice inheres as much in treating unequals the same, as it does in treating equals differently.

Throughout the two decades of its existence, the Judicial Commission of New South Wales has addressed this issue in the conduct of its educational programs for all of the courts of New South Wales. The annual conferences of those courts have always featured one or more lectures on the particular needs of specific sections of the community, including each of those covered in this Bench Book. Over those years the Commission acquired a formidable body of background papers from a wide range of persons with expertise in the respective areas covered in this Bench Book. Nevertheless, there was a substantial task to be undertaken to integrate and update that material and to transform it into a Bench Book format.

The Advisory Committee, under the Chairmanship of Justice Margaret Beazley, and the principal researcher and author, Ms Anthea Lowe, have made a significant contribution to the administration of justice in the preparation of this Bench Book. I have no doubt that the Bench Book will prove of great significance for the judiciary for many years to come and will substantially enhance the ability of the courts to deliver equal justice according to law.

The Bench Book must, however, be regarded as a work in progress, which will need to be continually updated over time. The Judicial Commission welcomes any comments as to the scope and content of this Bench Book, with a view to ensuring that it effectively performs its important task in the administration of justice, for which it is designed.

The Honourable J J Spigelman AC

Chief Justice

June 2006