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The History of the Court of Appeal

Te Kōti Pīra o Aotearoa

The Court of Appeal has existed since 1862.

Before its establishment, appeals from the then Supreme Court (now the High Court) were taken to the Privy Council in London. This however was beyond the financial reach of many people.

The Court of Appeal was first set up because of the inconvenience and expense of taking appeals to the Privy Council. While the need to have an appeal court was compelling, the difficulty in the mid-nineteenth century was the very small number of judicial officers in New Zealand, which made it impossible to provide a local court of appeal. In 1862 the Court of Appeal consisted of judges of the Supreme Court on a rotating basis.

The increase in the court’s workload and the practical difficulties of Supreme Court judges making themselves available for appellate work, resulted in the call for a permanent court of appeal.

In 1957 the permanent Court of Appeal was established in Wellington with specifically appointed Court of Appeal judges.

Before the Supreme Court was established, the Chief Justice was a member of the Court of Appeal by virtue of office, but the permanent complement of the court comprised the President and six permanent members. Today the court consists of the President and nine other judges.



  • Spiller, New Zealand Court of Appeal 1958-1996: A History (2002)
  • Spiller, Finn & Boast, A New Zealand Legal History (2nd Edn) (2001)
  • Report of the Royal Commission on the Courts, 1978
  • The Laws of New Zealand, Courts Reissue 1 (2004).


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