Civil law

The civil law area contains laws that govern legal rights and responsibilities in interactions between private individuals. It interacts with the courts and tribunals area to the extent that some of the systems use court processes to resolve disputes.

This area includes the following systems:


The privacy regulatory system determines how personal information is to be treated through its lifecycle from collection to destruction. It applies to both private and public agencies and ensures that these agencies treat personal information appropriately. It gives people ways of accessing and correcting their personal information, and a complaints process if they think their privacy has been breached.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner is an independent agency that investigates complaints, issues codes of practice, and makes recommendations for better privacy practices. The Ministry of Justice monitors the Office of the Privacy Commissioner. The privacy system also forms part of the broader human rights (domestic) regulatory system.

Further information about privacy


Torts are common law actions where a person seeks compensation for harm caused by a wrongful act. Some aspects of the tort system have been enacted into legislation. This system sets out rules for apportioning liability. It deals with some specific aspects of the tort of negligence, and with defamation. 

Key statutes

  • Contributory Negligence Act 1947
  • Animals Law Reform Act 1989
  • Innkeepers Act 1962
  • Deaths by Accident Compensation Act 1952
  • Defamation Act 1992
  • Law Reform Act 1936
  • Law Reform Act 1944
  • Occupiers Liability Act 1962

Property (trusts)

Trusts law has developed through the common law and equity. The trusts system provides some administrative rules and oversight mechanisms for general private trusts and charitable trusts. Other aspects of the system relate to the operation of statutory trustees, which perform regulatory functions by carrying out trustee roles in certain circumstances.

Further information about property (trusts)

Property (land)

This system governs title and tenure, sale and transfer of land and some aspects of land use in Aotearoa New Zealand. It promotes the rule of law by providing clear and consistent processes for the sale and transfer of land.

Further information about property (land)

Property (succession)

The property, wills and succession system comprises a range of mechanisms to distribute people’s private property after they have died. Its goal is to ensure that families/whānau, spouses and dependents are adequately provided for. It also ensures that, as far as possible, the promises made by, and the wishes of, the deceased are upheld.

Further information about property (succesison)

Private international law

This system deals with cross-jurisdictional private law relationships of various kinds such as family law, contract or tort law relationships. One distinct purpose is to establish clear rules and provide certainty to parties as to how cross-jurisdictional proceedings will be dealt with by New Zealand courts. For example, the Trans-Tasman Proceedings Act 2010 includes a scheme for the resolution of civil disputes and the reciprocal enforcement of civil judgements across New Zealand courts and the federal, state and territory courts of Australia. A focus of the Ministry of Justice’s private international law work is international family law, in particular international adoption, child abduction and other aspects relating to the care of children.

New Zealand is a member of the Hague Conference on Private International Law(external link), an intercountry organisation and a small number of the Conference’s Conventions.

Much of New Zealand’s private international law is regulated through the common law.  The basis for New Zealand’s laws in this area frequently are international treaties or other international arrangements.

Further information about private international law

Contract law

This system relates to the administration of contract law. It includes privity of contract (for example, the extent to which a person who is not a party to a contract can enforce that contract), contractual mistakes, contractual remedies (in particular, the law relating to damages for misrepresentation and cancellation), frustrated contracts, illegal contracts, and contracts entered into by minors.

Key statutes

  • Contract and Commercial Law Act 2017

Key secondary legislation

  • Contract and Commercial Law (Electronic Transactions) Regulations 2017


This system deals with issues related to medical matters and the law, including abortion and assisted human reproduction.

Further information about the medico-legal system