Who makes & applies the law

New Zealand law is made, applied and enforced by government. The Governor-General, the Prime Minister, cabinet ministers, government departments, Parliament, the Police, and the judges and judicial officers in our courts and tribunals all play a role in our system of government.

Also, all New Zealanders have rights and duties that directly contribute to making and enforcing New Zealand law. Citizens and permanent residents over the age of 18 have the right to vote in elections and referendums.

At the 2020 General Election, New Zealanders will be asked to vote in two referendums. Factual and impartial information about the referendums is available on the official Government Referendums website:

Government Referendums website(external link)

Elections New Zealand website(external link)

As citizens, we have a legal duty to be available as a juror in a jury trial. Both of these rights and duties help you influence who represents Aotearoa New Zealand in government and who will play an important role in the justice system.

New Zealand's system of government has 3 branches based on the separation of powers concept:

Parliament (also called the Legislature)

Parliament is made up of elected members, also called MPs. They make laws by examining and debating bills (proposed laws, written by the executive).

Because Parliament is elected by the public, it is accountable to the public. This accountability happens through the select committee process.

Select committees are small groups of members of parliament (MPs) who specialise in certain subject areas. They examine and debate bills and hear what the public has to say about them. If a select committee thinks a draft bill should not become law, it will inform the relevant cabinet minister and the bill will not pass into law unless changes are made.

Parliament will then vote on the bill and it might pass into law. When Parliament passes a law it receives Royal Assent and becomes a statute or an Act.


The executive is made up of the Governor General, the Prime Minister, cabinet ministers and government departments. They are accountable to Parliament through the select committee process. The executive:

  • develop policy
  • draft bills
  • publish laws, and
  • administer all legislation.

Developing policy is the process of working out an idea for a new law (bill) or turning a new law into action once it has received Royal Assent.

Drafting a bill means writing down a proposal for a new law after the policy has been developed and submitting it to Parliament.

Publishing laws means to formally announce new laws – this is usually done in a publication called the New Zealand Gazette.

Administering all legislation is making sure that everything that is written down in a statute or Act gets done. This might mean designing new services for citizens and putting processes into place to deliver these. The Minister of Justice, for instance, administers all legislation relating to courts – it is their responsibility that all processes involved in running the courts comply with relevant law.


The judiciary is made up of New Zealand judges and judicial officers. All judges and judicial officers are appointed by the Governor-General on the recommendation of the Attorney-General.

The judiciary keep the balance between the power of the government and the rights and responsibilities of New Zealanders. They are independent in their decision making and cannot be influenced by Parliament (the legislature) or the executive.

Judges interpret and apply the law through the court system by hearing and deciding cases. If they are hearing a case where the statute is unclear, they look at earlier court decisions on similar cases. This is called case law.

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