The High Court, which was established in 1841 and known as the Supreme Court until 1980, is of pivotal importance in New Zealand's justice system. It has general jurisdiction and responsibility, under the Judicature Act 1908, for the administration of justice throughout New Zealand. This includes maintaining the consistent application of the rule of law, supervision of other courts and tribunals, and the judicial review of administrative power. It has jurisdiction over both criminal and civil matters, and deals with cases at first instance or on appeal from other courts and certain tribunals.
It comprises the head of the New Zealand Judiciary, the Chief Justice and up to 55 other judges (which includes the judges of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal). In addition, Associate Judges of the High Court (formerly known as Masters of the High Court) supervise the Court's preliminary processes in most civil proceedings, and have jurisdiction to deal with summary judgment applications, company liquidations, bankruptcy proceedings, and some other types of civil proceedings.
The High Court Judges and Associate Judges are based in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, but also travel on circuit to Whangarei, Hamilton, Rotorua, Gisborne, New Plymouth, Napier, Whanganui, Palmerston North, Nelson, Blenheim, Greymouth, Timaru, Dunedin and Invercargill. The Court also has registries in Masterton and Tauranga. Court staff in those centres are responsible for supporting the management of cases before the Court and, as Registrars and Sheriffs of the Court, are responsible for exercising certain judicial powers, and enforcing the Court's judgments and orders.
The High Court deals with the most serious types of criminal offences before a judge and jury, and can impose sentence in summary, judge alone, cases where the District Court considers that a penalty is warranted that exceeds the District Court's jurisdiction. It also hears appeals from summary cases.
The Court has virtually unlimited jurisdiction in civil cases, but generally deals only with those civil claims that exceed the jurisdiction of the District Court or other courts and tribunals, or where particularly complex issues are involved. This jurisdiction includes matters concerning admiralty, company law, bankruptcy, the administration of estates and trusts, property transfer, land valuation, and many other areas.
Rights of appeal to the High Court exist against the decisions of District, Family, Youth and Environment Courts and numerous administrative tribunals and regulatory bodies.
For further information, go to the Courts of New Zealand website.