new zealand law
Zealand has an independent judiciary. The Chief Justice is
appointed by the Governor-General on the advice of the Prime
Minister. Judges are appointed by the Governor-General - generally, on the recommendation of the Attorney-General.
Court of Appeal and High Court judges can only be removed
from office by the Queen or the Governor-General, acting on a
recommendation from the House of Representatives. District Court
judges can be removed from office by the Governor-General.
Lawyers who have held a practicing certificate for at least
seven years are eligible for appointment as judges.
Courts of General Jurisdiction
The courts of general jurisdiction deal with criminal and
Criminal matters are offences against the law that result in
imprisonment or other penalties. Civil matters usually involve
disputes, such as a breach of contract, defamation or claims for
The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council
The Privy Council is still New Zealands final court of
appeal and highest court. It sits in London with eminent British
and New Zealand judges presiding and deals mainly with appeals
against judgements in civil cases. However, the Government is
currently considering alternatives and it is expected that New
Zealand will establish its own Supreme Court by 2004.
Court of Appeal
The Court of Appeal is the highest appeal court in New
Zealand. It consists of the Chief Justice, the President of the
Court of Appeal and six other judges of the Court of Appeal. Its
role is to determine the law of New Zealand and to reconcile
conflicting court decisions.
The High Court
The High Court is made up of the Chief Justice and 36 other
judges. The judges are based in Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington
and Christchurch, but travel on circuit to 13 other centres from
Whangarei to Invercargill. The High Court deals with major crimes
and the more significant civil claims. It also hears appeals from
lower courts and tribunals.
The District Courts
New Zealand presently has 64 District Courts located
throughout the country. They have extensive civil and criminal
jurisdiction. Serious crimes, such as rape and armed robbery, can
be transferred from the High Court to the District Courts for
New Zealand has a number of specialist courts.
- The Employment Court deals
with labour relations.
- Family Courts deal with
matters such as custody, parental access, divorce,
adoption, protection orders and the care and protection
- Youth Courts deal with
offences committed by young people (older than 14 but
less than 17).
- The Maori Land Court and
Maori Appellate Court deal with matters relating to Maori
- The Environment Court deals
with resource management, planning and developing
There are more than 100 tribunals,
authorities, boards or committees. These deal with a wide range
of disputes involving issues such as censorship, taxation,
tenancy and employment. Some of the better known ones are the
Employment, Disputes, Tenancy and Treat of Waitangi Tribunals.
Justices of the Peace
Justices of the Peace (JPs) are appointed by the
Governor-General on the recommendation of the Minister of Justice
following nomination by Members of Parliament. There are about
10,000 JPs in New Zealand.
JPs principally serve as witnesses for documents, such as
statutory declarations, wills and insurance claims, although they
can also grant search warrants and sometimes assist District
Courts in adjudicating minor criminal and traffic charges. JPs
are listed under Justices of the Pace in the New
Zealand Yellow Pages telephone book.
Juries in New Zealand are selected at random from the
Electoral Roll. If you are enrolled as an elector and aged
between 20 and 65, you may be selected to perform this important
service. On most occasions, you will be asked to hear a criminal
You can be excused from jury service only if there is a good
reason, such as hardship, personal beliefs, childcare
responsibilities or permanent disability. You may be exempted
from service if you have served on a jury within the last two
Getting Legal Help
Lawyers are listed in the Yellow Pages under both
Lawyers and Barristers & Solicitors.
The distinction reflects the type of legal work lawyers
specialize in: barristers deal with court work; solicitors with
other legal work that does not require them to represent their
clients in court. Most lawyers are qualified both as barristers
and solicitors, but tend not to act in both capacities.
Lawyers are required to treat all business as confidential,
provide independent advice and use their skill for their
clients benefit. As a profession, lawyers undertake a vast
range of legal work. However, as far as most private citizens are
concerned, they are generally employed to:
- Provide advice on legal
- Check legal documents
- Assist with immigration
- Provide conveyance services
for properties and businesses
- Prepare rental and lease
- Draft wills
- Undertake divorce proceedings
- Arrange redress in cases of
fraud or misrepresentation
- Provide representation in
cases involving the Police
Legal fees vary widely. To avoid unpleasant surprises, it is
always advisable to enquire about fees before commissioning any
Free Legal Help
Legal aid is available only for matters that you cannot
resolve without a lawyer acting for you in court, or to help you
settle a matter out of court. You cannot get legal aid for
divorce, or if you only want to talk to a lawyer. The aid is
subject to numerous restrictions and may have to be paid back at
a later date.
Information on legal aid is available from Citizens Advice
Bureaus and Community Law Centres, District Courts and
other agencies. Most lawyers will also provide guidance.
New Zealand is a modern democratic country in which human
rights are protected. The Human Rights Commission is responsible
for investigating complaints about discrimination and other human
rights issues. It is an independent agency charged with
protecting individual rights, resolving disputes and eliminating
unfair and illegal practices. The commission also has the power
to prosecute individuals and/or agencies contravening the Human
Rights Act 1993.
Office of the Ombudsmen
In New Zealand, the Office of the Ombudsmen is an independent
agency. Its main function is to assist private citizens with
requests for official information, and complaints about local and
central government agencies. There is no fee for making a
complaint or an application to the Ombudsmen.