Judiciary of New Zealand
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The judiciary of New Zealand is a branch of the government of New Zealand that interprets and applies the laws of New Zealand, to ensure equal justice under law, and to provide a mechanism for dispute resolution. The system of courts has four levels: the six-member Supreme Court is the highest court; the ten-member Court of Appeal hears appeals from the High Court on points of law; the High Court deals with serious criminal offences and civil matters, and hears appeals from the lower courts; and the sixty six District Courts. There is also a separate Māori Land Court and Māori Appellate Court which have jurisdiction over Māori land cases under the Te Ture Whenua Maori Act 1993. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is the head of the judiciary and is appointed by the Governor-General on the advice of the Prime Minister. All other superior court judges are appointed by the Governor-General on the advice of the Attorney-General, the Chief Justice, and the Solicitor-General.
The laws of New Zealand are based on English common law, some older statutes of the United Kingdom Parliament (notably the Bill of Rights 1689), statutes of the New Zealand Parliament and decisions of the New Zealand courts. The laws are based on three related principles: parliamentary sovereignty; the rule of law; and the separation of powers. In interpreting common law, New Zealand judges have followed British decisions, although they are not bound by them, thereby preserving uniformity with United Kingdom common law, bolstered by the long-term role of the Privy Council as the final court of appeal.
A Supreme Court was first established in 1841, followed by various lower courts including District Courts and Magistrates' Courts, with the latter coming into being in 1846. The Court of Appeal was set up in 1862 as the highest court in New Zealand, but consisted of panels of judges from the Supreme Court. Appeals could be taken from the Court of Appeal to the Privy Council in London. The District Courts were abolished in 1925 but later re-established. In 1957 the Court of Appeal was fully separated from the Supreme Court, by having its own judges. In 1980, the Supreme Court was renamed the High Court, reflecting its intermediate role. In October 2003, the House of Representatives passed the Supreme Court Act 2003, establishing a new Supreme Court of New Zealand in Wellington in July 2004, and simultaneously ending the right of appeal to the Privy Council.
The Māori Land Court was established in 1865 under the Native Lands Act, to "define the land rights of Māori people under Māori custom and to translate those rights or customary titles into land titles recognisable under European law". The court was criticised for enabling the removal of Māori from their land, partly due to holding proceedings in English and in cities far from Māori settlements, judges with inadequate knowledge of Māori custom, and partly due to the laws it enforced. Land law did not recognise that land was owned communally by Hapū (clans), and land ownership was put in the hands of a few people. In 1954 it was renamed the Māori Land Court. In the 1980s the judiciary played a major role in redefining the constitutional position of the Treaty of Waitangi.
- "About the Māori Land Court". New Zealand Ministry of Justice. Retrieved 21 December 2013.
- "Te Ture Whenua Maori Act 1993 (Maori Land Act 1993)". New Zealand Legislation. Parliamentary Counsel Office. 5 December 2013. Retrieved 21 December 2013.
- "The Judiciary and the Courts". New Zealand Ministry of Justice. Retrieved 21 December 2013.
- A. H. McLintock, ed. (18 September 2007). "Law, History of". Te Ara – The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 21 December 2013.
- "Supreme Court of New Zealand". New Zealand Ministry of Justice. Retrieved 21 December 2013.
- "Supreme Court Act 2003". New Zealand Legislation. Parliamentary Counsel Office. 1 July 2013. Retrieved 21 December 2013.
- "The Native Lands Act 1865". Early New Zealand Statutes. University of Auckland. Retrieved 21 December 2013.
- "Our History - Māori Land Court". New Zealand Ministry of Justice. Retrieved 21 December 2013.
- New Zealand Maori Council v Attorney-General  1 NZLR 641 (HC & CA) [SOE case]
- He Tirohanga ō Kawa ki te Tiriti o Waitangi: a guide to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi as expressed by the Courts and the Waitangi Tribunal (PDF). Te Puni Kokiri. 2001. p. 15. ISBN 0-478-09193-1. Retrieved 21 December 2012.
- Janine Hayward (13 July 2012). "Principles of the Treaty of Waitangi – ngā mātāpono o te tiriti - Treaty principles developed by courts". Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 21 December 2013.