Courts and tribunals

This regulatory area gives effect to fundamental constitutional principles, like the rule of law and the separation of powers. It also provides the operating framework for the majority of the Ministry’s other regulatory systems. It includes the constitution, jurisdiction, procedures and powers of courts and tribunals necessary to enforce criminal law, resolve civil disputes, uphold individuals’ rights and hold government to account.

In doing this, this regulatory area provides justice, keeps people safe, and enables citizens and businesses to participate in our society and economy with confidence that laws and contracts will be enforced.

The functioning of the court and tribunal system also needs to reflect and give effect to Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

This area also includes the appointment and jurisdiction of judicial officers and the provision of legal aid services. Together with the constitutional regulatory area, it provides the platform that underpins all other regulatory systems in Aotearoa New Zealand.

The Ministry works with the Judiciary in this regulatory area. The Judiciary and the Ministry have different roles in the court and tribunal system, in line with the principle of the separation of powers, but we work together to administer justice and uphold the rule of law.

The Courts Strategic Partnership Group is the key forum for engagement between the Judiciary and the Ministry. The Secretary for Justice and the Chief Justice established the Group in 2019 to create a strategic forum where senior judges and the Ministry’s senior leaders can work together with a commitment to building an effective partnership between these two branches of government. The Group recognises that working in partnership and solving issues together is critically important to enable the Judiciary and the Ministry to meet their responsibilities in relation to the courts under jointly-agreed principles. These principles recognise that the Judiciary and the Ministry have a shared interest in developing and maintaining a system of justice that is just, fair, accessible, modern, and effective, and which delivers timely, impartial, and open justice. Further information on the Judiciary can be found on the Courts of New Zealand website:

Courts of New Zealand(external link)

The related and sometimes overlapping systems in this regulatory area are:

Structure and jurisdictions (generalist)

This system concerns the constitution and jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, High Court and District Court. It directly affects those people moving through the courts. It also has an indirect impact on the wider community in the context of its broader constitutional function.

This system supports the rule of law and the separation of powers.

Further information about structure and jurisdictions (generalist)

Structure and jurisdictions (specialist)

Some specialist areas of law have certain remedies and processes that require courts to operate differently from the generalist courts. This system encompasses both the Coroners Court and Family Court. These are specialist jurisdictions and courts established in legislation and administered by the Ministry of Justice.

Other specialist courts, such as the Māori Land Court and the Environment Court, are established in legislation administered by other agencies.

This system supports the rule of law and the separation of powers in these specialist areas by providing the structures and jurisdictions necessary to resolve disputes and uphold individuals’ rights.

Further information about structure and jurisdictions (specialist)

Tribunals

This system deals with the structure and jurisdiction of the Disputes Tribunal and the Canterbury Earthquakes Insurance Tribunal.

The Ministry administers 28 tribunals in total (including authorities and committees). Some of these are established in legislation administered by the Ministry of Justice (for example, the Human Rights Review tribunal, and the Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal) and some are established in legislation administered by other agencies (for example, the Social Security Appeal Authority). Generally, the Ministry has placed most of the tribunals it administers in their relevant regulatory system (for example, the Human Rights Review Tribunal has been placed in the ‘Human rights (domestic) system’).  However, the Disputes Tribunal and Canterbury Earthquakes Insurance Tribunal have been placed in this system as they have particular functions and attributes that don’t immediately align with other systems.

This system supports the rule of law and ensures access to justice in specific contexts by providing a low-cost, accessible method for resolving disputes without involving a court.

Further information about tribunals

Judicial officers

The judicial officers system is a fundamental component of the courts and tribunals regulatory area. It encompasses the legislation that provides for the appointment and powers of judges, justices of the peace and community magistrates. The system also includes the legislation governing the Judicial Conduct Commissioner, which receives and considers complaints relating to the conduct of judges.

This system supports the rule of law and the separation of powers by preserving and protecting the integrity and impartiality of Aotearoa New Zealand’s judicial officers.

Further information about judicial officers

Process and powers (civil)

This system encompasses the processes and powers exercised by courts in the civil jurisdiction. It gives effect to the rule of law by providing fair and just processes, powers and procedures for application in civil cases.

Further information about process and powers (civil)

Process and powers (criminal)

This system encompasses the processes and powers exercised by courts in the criminal jurisdiction. It gives effect to the rule of law by providing fair and just processes, powers and procedures for application in criminal cases.

Further information about process and powers (criminal)

Legal aid

This system provides the regulatory settings for who qualifies to receive legal aid, and for the administering and purchasing legal aid services from private lawyers and the Public Defence Service in an effective and efficient manner.

Government-funded legal aid is a central component of access to justice. The purpose of the legal aid system is to provide legal services to people of insufficient means.

Further information about legal aid

Enforcement, judgments and settlements

This system encompasses the processes and procedures available to parties to enforce court judgments and settlements in civil cases. It also includes the processes available to enforce court-imposed and court-ordered fines (for example, following an unsuccessful challenge to, or failure to pay, an infringement fee). This aspect has strong links to the regulatory system dealing with infringements and public order offences.

This system gives effect to the rule of law by providing clear and accessible processes for the enforcement of financial penalties, judgments and settlements.

Further information about enforcement, judgments and settlements