How the justice system works

When many people think of the justice system, they think of criminal lawyers and courts. While these play an important role in the system, there's a lot more to it.

New Zealand’s justice system is part of our system of government. It's made up of a number of institutions, groups of people and individuals who make, apply and enforce the law.

New Zealand’s government is modelled on the British system (the Westminster model) and is based on a concept called separation of powers. This means the institutions of government are divided into 3 branches:

The system has checks and balances in place so that no individual group within the government can become too powerful. New Zealand’s constitution sets out how Parliament, the executive and the judiciary have their own roles and how they also work together to make, pass, apply and enforce the law.

  • Laws are written by the executive and passed through Parliament (the legislature). It is the role of New Zealand’s courts and judges (the judiciary) to interpret these laws and ensure that people, groups and institutions in New Zealand comply with them. The courts also work closely with agencies like the Police and the Department of Corrections (responsible for New Zealand’s prisons).
  • The 2 main streams of New Zealand law are criminal law and civil law. There are other streams of law as well, like family law, environmental law or commercial law.
  • New Zealand’s courts are supported by 29 tribunals that help resolve civil law disputes.

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