The law of New Zealand consists of the common law, statute law enacted
by the New Zealand parliament, a number of United Kingdom laws which are
still in force, regulations, by-laws and other forms of subordinate
legislation. When applying the common law, New Zealand courts take into
account common law principles developed in New Zealand and countries
such as the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada.
The hierarchy of courts of New Zealand consists of Her Majesty the Queen
in Council (the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council); the court of
Appeal; the High Court and the District Courts. All courts exercise
both criminal and civil jurisdiction.
The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council is the final appeal
tribunal. The Court of Appeal is the highest appeal court and exercises
an appeal jurisdiction only. In criminal matters the Court of Appeal
hears appeals against convictions and sentences imposed in the High
Court or District Court. The decisions of this court are final except
where an appeal lies to the Judicial Commission of the Privy Council.
The jurisdiction of the High Court is very wide. Its jurisdiction
extends to cases of major crimes, the more important civil claims,
appeals from inferior courts and tribunals, and reviews of
District Courts are established in various localities and they have
extensive civil and criminal jurisdiction. Justices of the Peace can
sit as a District Court to hear a limited number of minor criminal
charges. The Family Court, established in 1980 and Small Claims
Tribunals, established in 1976 are divisions of the District Courts.
Among the courts with specialist functions is the Children and Young
Persons Court, established under the Act of 1974, which deals with every
complaint under the Act relating to care, protection, or control of a
child or young person. Specially warranted district court judges
exercise the jurisdiction of these courts. Children and Young Person
Courts have criminal jurisdiction to deal with offences committed by
children and young persons, except in cases of murder, manslaughter, and
traffic offences not punishable by imprisonment. Appeals from decisions
of these courts may be brought to the High Court.
A majority of indictable offences are dealt with summarily by the
District Court judges. They have jurisdiction over all crimes against
property and all but the most serious of other crimes, such as treason,
homicide, rape, and perjury. A District Court judge may, however,
decline to deal with an offence summarily, and the accused is committed
for trial in the High Court. The accused person also has the right to
claim a jury trial if he/she is charged with any offence punishable by
imprisonment of more than three months.
New Zealand is the first country in the world to introduce a statutory
scheme for compensation by the state to persons injured by crimes of
violence and to the dependants of persons killed by such acts. The
Criminal Injuries Compensation Act 1963 is administered by the Accident
Compensation Corporation. The Corporation caters for all personal injury
by accident in New Zealand, and thus covers the whole range of listed
criminal injuries, including pregnancy by rape, and criminal infection
with disease. This scheme is designed as a fund of first resort.
New Zealand also has a scheme of legal aid to the needy. The Legal Aid
Act 1969 is based on the principle that no one should be prevented by
lack of means from having their grievances heard and determined fairly
by the courts. The scheme is administered by the Department of Social
Most criminal prosecutions are handled by the police. Other crown
agencies, however, can prosecute for breaches of legislation they
administer; eg Department of Justice can prosecutes for breaches of
parole conditions and the Ministry of Transport for traffic offences,
The New Zealand Police Force has long recognised that the most effective
policing is that which prevents crime since it is more expedient, more
humane, less socially disruptive and far less costly.
The Neighbourhood Watch scheme was launched in October 1980 to encourage
and assist families in protecting their own home and those of their
neighbours from crime. Neighbourhood Support Groups, which were
initiated by two members of the public in 1985 and actively supported by
the police, extend this philosophy and aim to create a responsive,
caring community where all people are committed to take responsibility
for their own well-being in a violence free environment.
The strength of Neighbourhood Support Groups is that they are grass
roots organisations which arise out of the community, respond to the
community's needs and find solutions to the problems the community
identifies. They concentrate not just on the protection of property but
also on domestic violence, incest, child abuse and sexual harassment.
Kits which advise communities on how to set up these groups contain
advice on how to handle these situations whether as the victim or as a
member of the community, and also contain information on home security
and self-defence. Rural Support Groups are a modification of the
Neighbourhood Support Group scheme to meet the special needs of those
living in rural areas.
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