District Courts of New Zealand

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District Courts of New Zealand
Coat of arms of New Zealand.svg
Established 1893
Composition method Appointed by the Governor-General on the advice of the Attorney-General
Authorized by District Courts Act 1947
Decisions are appealed to High Court of New Zealand, Court of Appeal of New Zealand
Judge term length Life tenure (Constitution Act 1986, s 23)
Number of positions 133
Website districtcourts.govt.nz
Chief District Court Judge
Currently Her Honour Judge Jan Marie Doogue
Since 1 September 2011
Coat of arms of New Zealand.svg
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The District Courts of New Zealand (Māori: Ngā Kōti ā Rohe) are New Zealand's main trial courts. The District Courts can hear civil claims up to $200,000 ($500,000 if recovery of land is claimed) and most criminal cases.[1] There are sixty-three District Courts throughout New Zealand (as of 2011)[2] and the vast majority of both civil and criminal actions in New Zealand are commenced in a District Court. The District Courts are governed by the District Courts Act 1947 (formerly titled the Magistrates' Courts Act 1947) as well as the District Court Rules which are periodically revised by the Rules Committee (last revised 2014).[3]

The District Courts were established in 1980 to replace Magistrates Courts, which had dealt with minor criminal matters and civil claims since 1893. The establishment of the District Courts was the result of the recommendations made in the 1978 Royal Commission on the Courts. report. District Courts were given an expanded jurisdiction and the Family Court was created as a division of the District Court in 1981.[4]

The Youth Court is another specialist division of the District Court, dealing with people under the age of 17 who have been charged with criminal offending.

In 2011, the New Zealand Attorney-General stated that the District Court was "the largest court in Australasia".[5] The larger District Courts operate on a daily basis, while others may only operate on a weekly or monthly basis, usually being serviced by Judges from larger centres.[6]


The jurisdiction of the District Court derives from the District Courts Act 1947, which provides that the District Court can hear both criminal and civil proceedings.

The District Courts criminal jurisdiction is busier and arguably broader than any other Court. Over 95% of all criminal trials, including jury trials on all but the most serious matters are heard in the District Court. Within its jurisdiction are offences ranging from very serious offending such as rape, aggravated robbery, and sexual violation down to minor offences such as disorderly behaviour. The only charges that cannot be heard by the District Court are category 4 offences, such as murder, manslaughter and crimes against the State (e.g. treason). The District Court cannot sentence a person to life imprisonment or to preventative detention; such cases require a transfer to the High Court for sentencing.

The District Courts' civil jurisdiction allows the Court to hear any matter where the amount in dispute is $200,000 or less. Civil claims involve arguments over money and property and can include complex commercial transactions.[7]


There are 133 District Court Judges, including the Chief District Court Judge. Judges are permanently based in the main centres, but travel to other courts on circuit. While each District Court Judge can preside over minor criminal matters, they each specialise in particular aspects of the District Courts jurisdiction, either jury trials, family or youth.[8]


District courts with resident judges
District courts served by circuit judges
Hearings only courts

These courts are only open for hearings and trials. Their registry courts are noted in brackets.

Closed courts
  • Balclutha (closed March 2014, transferred to Dunedin)
  • Feilding (closed March 2013, transferred to Palmerston North)
  • Rangiora (closed March 2014, transferred to Christchurch)
  • Warkworth (closed March 2013, transferred to North Shore)
  • Whataroa (closed March 2013, transferred to Greymouth)


  1. ^ Criminal Procedure Act 2011 (NZ) s 73 http://legislation.govt.nz/act/public/2011/0081/latest/DLM3360137.html
  2. ^ Joseph, Philip A.; Joseph, Thomas (20 June 2012). "Judicial system". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 31 January 2017. 
  3. ^ District Court Rules 2014: http://www.legislation.govt.nz/regulation/public/2014/0179/latest/DLM6129567.html?src=qs
  4. ^ "District Courts Act 1947" (PDF). New Zealand Legislation. Parliamentary Council Office, New Zealand. Retrieved 9 May 2011. 
  5. ^ Darise Bennington, "Judiciary bereft at sudden loss of Chief District Court Judge", NZ Lawyer, 29 July 2011, p 1.
  6. ^ "History of the District Court". Courts of New Zealand. Ministry of Justice, New Zealand. Retrieved 9 May 2011. 
  7. ^ "Jurisdiction of the Court". Courts of New Zealand. Ministry of Justice, New Zealand. Retrieved 9 May 2011. 
  8. ^ "Role & Structure". Courts of New Zealand. Ministry of Justice, New Zealand. Retrieved 9 May 2011. 

Further reading[edit]

  • M McDowell; D Webb (March 2006). The New Zealand Legal System: Structures and Processes (4th ed.). Wellington, New Zealand: LexisNexis. pp. 230–235. ISBN 0-408-71839-0. 

External links[edit]