Appellate Courts

The Court of Appeal is New Zealand's intermediate appellate court and is located in Wellington, but also sits regularly in Auckland and Christchurch.

The Court of Appeal has existed since 1862.

Before its establishment, appeals from the then Supreme Court (now the High Court) were taken to the Privy Council in London. This however was beyond the financial reach of many people.

The Court of Appeal was first set up because of the inconvenience and expense of taking appeals to the Privy Council. While the need to have an appeal court was compelling, the difficulty in the mid-nineteenth century was the very small number of judicial officers in New Zealand, which made it impossible to provide a local court of appeal. In 1862 the Court of Appeal consisted of judges of the Supreme Court on a rotating basis.

The increase in the court's workload and the practical difficulties of Supreme Court judges making themselves available for appellate work, resulted in the call for a permanent court of appeal.

In 1957 the permanent Court of Appeal was established in Wellington with specifically appointed Court of Appeal judges.

Before the Supreme Court was established, the Chief Justice was a member of the Court of Appeal by virtue of office, but the permanent complement of the court comprised the President and six permanent members. Today the court consists of the President and eight other judges.

The Court sits in panels of either five or three judges depending on the nature and wider significance of the particular case. In order to assist with the workload of the Court of Appeal, it also sits in divisions which consist of one Court of Appeal judge and two High Court judges dealing with routine appeals.

The Court deals with civil and criminal appeals from proceedings heard in the High Court, and indictable criminal proceedings in District Courts. Matters appealed to the High Court from a District Court and certain tribunals can be taken to the Court of Appeal with leave if a second appeal is warranted. The Court may also grant leave to hear appeals against pre-trial rulings in criminal cases, and appeals on questions of law from the Employment Court.

The Supreme Court Act 2003 establishes the Supreme Court of New Zealand.

The Act establishes within New Zealand a new court of final appeal comprising New Zealand judges:

  • to recognise that New Zealand is an independent nation with its own history and traditions; and
  • to enable important legal matters, including legal matters relating to the Treaty of Waitangi, to be resolved with an understanding of New Zealand conditions, history and traditions; and
  • to improve access to justice.

For appeals from New Zealand, the Supreme Court of New Zealand replaces the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council located in London, and came into being on 1 January 2004, with hearings commencing on 1 July 2004.

The Supreme Court is hence New Zealand's final court of appeal.

According to the Supreme Court Act 2003, it was established to recognise New Zealand as an independent nation with its own history and traditions, and improve access to justice and enable important legal matters, including those relating to the Treaty of Waitangi, to be resolved with an understanding of New Zealand conditions, history, and traditions.

As the court of final appeal, the Supreme Court has the role of maintaining overall coherence in the legal system.

Appeals to the Supreme Court can be heard only with the leave of the court. It must give leave to appeal only if it is satisfied that it is necessary in the interests of justice (s12 and s13 Supreme Court Act 2003).

The court can sit only as a bench of five to hear substantive appeals. It is able to appoint retired judges of he Supreme Court or Court of Appeal (under the age of 75) where it is not possible to convene a court of five permanent members.

The judges of the Supreme Court continue to be judges of the High Court, which maintains the formal integration of the higher courts judicature. The Supreme Court Act does not expressly prevent the Supreme Court's judges sitting in the High Court. However, it is not appropriate, except in exceptional circumstances, for judges of the Supreme Court to sit in the lower court on a case which could end up before the Supreme Court.