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The role of courts and Judges

Read about what the courts do and the role of Judges. See how the courts are structured.

What courts do
What Judges do
The structure of New Zealand's courts

What courts do

Courts settle legal disagreements between:

  • the Crown (the New Zealand government on behalf of the Queen) and individuals


  • between individuals

through the

  • criminal justice system

or the

  • civil justice system

Explore the criminal justice system through the case of Oliver Fender, a reckless driver

Explore the civil justice system through the case of Mei Hsu, who thinks her idea has been stolen

What Judges do

Every court has a Judge. Judges consider the evidence on all sides of the case, and interpret the law and how it applies to the evidence. The evidence is usually presented by lawyers on behalf of the people on trial.

When the Judge has considered all the evidence, they make a judgement or decision. They might, for example, send a criminal to jail, or say that someone has to pay money to someone else for treating them unfairly.

The Judges are called the judiciary. They keep the balance between the power of the government, and the rights and responsibilities of New Zealanders.

The government has three branches:

  • Parliament
  • Executive
  • Judiciary.

The three branches are separate from each other so that one branch cannot exceed their power. This is called the "separation of powers". Judges make decisions by interpreting the laws that have been passed by Parliament. Being independent of the Executive and Parliament, Judges cannot be directed by them.

The structure of New Zealand's courts

New Zealand's courts are arranged in levels (a hierarchy). The decisions of a higher court must be followed by a lower court. The decisions of a lower court can be tested (appealed) in a higher court.

The rules are clear and similar cases will be handled in a similar way.

Our court system

Resources to download