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The Judiciary

Ministry of Justice - Courts - The Judiciary

About the Judiciary

The New Zealand system of Government is based on the Westminster model which provides for a separation of powers between the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary. This separation ensures there are checks and balances within the system and that accountability and impartiality are maintained.

The Legislature makes laws by examining and debating Bills which become law when passed. It is made up of the MPs in Parliament and Select Committees.

The Executive initiates and administers the law by deciding policy, drafting Bills and administering Acts. It is made up of Ministers of the Crown and government departments.

The Judiciary applies the law by hearing and deciding cases. It is made up of judges and judicial officers.

Independence of Judiciary and Executive

In New Zealand the courts function is based on the constitutional principle that the judicial decision makers, the Judiciary, are independent of the policy makers, the Executive and Parliament.

Judges make decisions by interpreting the laws which are passed by Parliament. Parliament passes laws that represent policy decisions which reflect the intention or interests of New Zealanders collectively. In this way society's standards are formally expressed by the enforcement of laws.

If a series of judicial decisions result in an interpretation of the law which the Executive considers does not reflect the intention of the policy, the Executive can change the legislation. However, they can not direct or request a judicial officer to revise or reconsider a decision.

Similarly, the judges who interpret the law, do not create or determine the policies. Judicial officers are expected not to publicly comment on whether a policy is good or bad, or to have a view on what policy should be amended, or become law.

Each judge holds his or her authority as an individual and the consistent interpretation of the law is by professional agreement only, for example basing a decision on precedent. Even the Chief Justice cannot direct individual members of the judiciary in respect to their decisions.

Should there be a dispute between the Executive and Judiciary, the Executive has no authority to direct the Judiciary, or its individual members. The Judiciary are appointed by the Crown and are accountable to their oath of office and through the appeal process.

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