There has been a Public Defender in New South Wales since 1941. The first incumbent was Gordon Champion. When he died in 1945 he was replaced by Fred Vizzard who remained the sole Public Defender until he was joined by Clarrie Cullen in 1953. Fred Vizzard came to national prominence for his defence of Stephen Lesley Bradley who was charged with, and ultimately convicted of, the kidnapping of young Graeme Thorne. The establishment of Public Defenders was increased to three in 1965 with the appointment of Howard Purnell QC. Over the years since 1965, the establishment has been increased and now stands at twenty-five permanent Public Defenders.
Initially, Public Defenders came within the ambit of the Public Service and were under the control of the Public Service Board. This was seen as unsatisfactory because it meant that Public Defenders did not have the same independence as Crown Prosecutors. Consequently, in 1969 the government decided that Public Defenders should be, and be seen to be, independent of the executive arm of government. In that year, the Public Defenders Act 1969 was passed. The Public Defenders worked under that Act for 26 years.