The establishment of the Supreme Court instituted a uniform system for exercising the final right of appeal. Supreme Court decisions are binding on all New Zealand courts. Proceedings originating in any court may be appealed, by leave of the court, to the Supreme Court. Previously, certain appeals terminated in the Court of Appeal, with no further right of appeal to the Privy Council. Furthermore, the final right of appeal depended on whether the proceedings were civil or criminal. The appeal was ‘as of right in civil cases where the amount in dispute exceeded $5,000, but was available in criminal cases only with the special leave of the Privy Council. All appeals to the Supreme Court are by leave of the court. The court must be satisfied that the appeal involves a matter of general public importance or commercial significance, or that a substantial miscarriage of justice may have occurred.
The Supreme Court comprises the chief justice, who presides, and between four and five permanent judges. The court’s membership is supplemented by acting judges where permanent members have a conflict of interest and must recuse themselves (abstain from hearing the case). Five judges constitute the court, although only two need sit in applications for leave to appeal. If the court is divided, the opinion of the majority is the judgment of the court. Supreme Court judges retain concurrent appointment as judges of the High Court. As for all judges in New Zealand, the compulsory retirement age of Supreme Court judges is 70 years.
Court of Appeal
The Court of Appeal is New Zealand’s intermediate appellate court. In criminal cases, people may appeal as of right against conviction or sentence (or both) for indictable (serious) offences that may be punishable by imprisonment. The Crown has no general right of appeal against an acquittal for an indictable offence and must obtain the court’s leave to appeal against sentence. In civil cases appeals from the High Court are as of right, unless the case originated as an appeal from a lower court. In that event, either the High Court or Court of Appeal must grant leave. If the court is divided, the opinion of the majority is the judgment of the court. Court of Appeal decisions, while subject to correction by the Supreme Court, are binding on all lower courts. The Court of Appeal is bound by decisions of the Supreme Court and those of the Privy Council entered before the right of appeal was abolished.
The Court of Appeal comprises a president, and between five and nine permanent judges. As from 1 July 2010 the court has had a full contingent of nine judges. A sitting of three judges constitutes the court, although it must sit as a full court of five judges in cases of special public importance. Where a division of the court does not include the president, the next most senior judge presides. Judges of the Court of Appeal hold concurrent appointment as judges of the High Court.