Chapter 2 - The present New Zealand courts


Supreme Court

Before 2004, New Zealand’s highest court of appeal was the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, which sits in London.47 The Supreme Court was established under the Supreme Court Act 2003 and was empowered to hear appeals from 1 July 2004. The Act abolished appeals to the Privy Council. One of the purposes of the Act was:48

… to establish within New Zealand a new court of final appeal comprising New Zealand judges—

(i) to recognise that New Zealand is an independent nation with its own history and traditions; and

(ii) to enable important legal matters, including legal matters relating to the Treaty of Waitangi, to be resolved with an understanding of New Zealand conditions, history, and traditions; and

(iii) to improve access to justice …

The Supreme Court sits in Wellington and hears appeals by leave of the Court. Leave will be granted if the Court considers it is necessary in the interests of justice to hear the appeal, on the grounds that:49

  • the appeal involves a matter of general or public importance;50 or
  • a substantial miscarriage of justice may have occurred, or may occur unless the appeal is heard; or
  • the appeal involves a matter of general commercial significance.

In exceptional cases, the Supreme Court may grant leave to appeal against a decision made in a court other than the Court of Appeal.51

The Supreme Court comprises the Chief Justice and not fewer than four, nor more than five, other judges, appointed by the Governor-General.52 The Supreme Court disposed of 31 substantive appeals in the 12 months to 30 June 2011.53

For the background to the establishment of the Supreme Court, see Gordon Thatcher “The Supreme Court of New Zealand” (2010) 36 Commonwealth Law Bulletin 461 and P Spiller, J Finn and R Boast A New Zealand Legal History (2nd ed, Brookers, Wellington, 2001) at 245–246.

Section 3(1)(a).

Section 13(2).

A significant issue relating to the Treaty of Waitangi is a matter of general or public importance: s 13(3).

Section 14. The courts to which this section applies are the High Court, the Employment Court, the Māori Appellate Court and the Courts Martial Appeal Court.

Section 17.

Courts of New Zealand “Supreme Court, Court of Appeal and High Court – workload statistics” < >.