New Zealand’s judicial system comprises (in descending order of hierarchy):
- the Supreme Court of New Zealand
- the Court of Appeal
- the High Court
- the Courts Martial Appeal Authority
- the District Court
- other specialist courts, namely: the Employment Court, the Environment Court, the Māori Land Court, the Coroners Court, the Family Court, Youth Courts and courts martial (military courts).
The first four courts are ‘superior courts’, and the remaining ones ‘inferior courts’. An inferior court is any court of inferior jurisdiction to the High Court. Some tribunals, such as the Disputes Tribunal, are also deemed inferior courts for particular purposes.
Original and appellate jurisdiction
Jurisdiction is of two types: original and appellate. Original jurisdiction is the right of a court to hear and determine cases at first instance. Appellate jurisdiction is the right of a court to hear and determine appeals against previous court decisions or decisions delivered lower in the judicial hierarchy.
The Supreme Court and Court of Appeal are appellate courts, exercising exclusively appellate jurisdiction. All other courts exercise original jurisdiction. Some, such as the High Court and the District Court, exercise both original and appellate jurisdiction. All courts except the High Court exercise a defined statutory jurisdiction. In addition to its statutory jurisdiction, the High Court also has ‘inherent’ jurisdiction, which gives it general supervisory power to ensure that public administration is conducted according to law. Moreover, all courts have inherent powers to enable them to act effectively within their jurisdiction. Every court has power to prevent abuse of its process and to develop procedures to facilitate the exercise of its functions.