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Judiciary

The New Zealand judiciary has four basic levels of courts:

  • The Supreme Court;
  • the Court of Appeal;
  • the High Court;
  • and the District Court (including the Youth Court).

The Supreme Court was established in 2004, under the Supreme Court Act 2003, and replaced the Privy Council in London as New Zealand’s court of last resort. The High Court deals with serious criminal offences and civil matters, and hears appeals from subordinate courts. The Court of Appeal hears appeals from the High Court on points of law.

The chief justice, the head of the judiciary, presides over the Supreme Court, and is appointed by the governor-general on the advice of the prime minister. As of 2019 the incumbent Chief Justice is Dame Helen Winkelmann. All other superior court judges are appointed on the advice of the chief justice, the attorney-general, and the solicitor-general. Judges and judicial officers are appointed non-politically and under strict rules regarding tenure to help maintain judicial independence from the executive government. Judges are appointed according to their qualifications, personal qualities, and relevant experience. A judge may not be removed from office except by the attorney-general upon an address of the House of Representatives for proved misbehaviour.

New Zealand law has three principal sources: English common law, certain statutes of the United Kingdom Parliament enacted before 1947 (notably the Bill of Rights 1689), and statutes of the New Zealand Parliament. In interpreting common law, the courts have endeavoured to preserve uniformity with common law as interpreted in the United Kingdom and related jurisdictions.

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