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How Cases Come to the High Court

Civil Proceedings
Criminal Proceedings

Civil Proceedings

The practice and procedure of the High Court in all civil proceedings is regulated by the High Court Rules. The Rules set out how proceedings are started and specify the documents that must be filed and how they are to be served. They specify what applications to the court need to cover for pre-trial matters and for the trial or hearing.

The Rules also provide guidelines for case management. Case management aims to ensure that cases are processed through the system efficiently.

The High Court can order the removal of civil proceedings from the district courts to the High Court, and the High Court can order a civil proceeding to be transferred to the Court of Appeal in exceptional circumstances.

The Judicature Amendment Act 1972 puts in place a single procedure for judicial review of the use or non-use of statutory powers. The purpose of the Act is to simplify the procedure for bringing judicial review that had been developed under the common law.

Appeals to the High Court from the district courts or other courts are generally conducted through a rehearing. That means the High Court judge can come to a different decision to the lower courts on the evidence presented and on the law.

The High Court usually has its powers exercised by one judge. There is provision for the High Court to sit as a full court, which is defined as two or more judges sitting constituting the court. The full court is reserved for cases of particular significance. It is at the discretion of a judge to determine whether or not to constitute a full court.


Commercial Cases

In Auckland, there is a commercial list that is specifically set up by the Judicature Act to deal with commercial cases. Some High Court judges are appointed as commercial list judges.

Commercial cases may relate to such things as the carriage of goods for the purpose of trade or commerce, the interpretation of commercial documents and disputes arising out of intellectual property rights between parties engaged in commerce.

Lay members of the High court


Lay members may be appointed to assist Judges of the High Court under three pieces of legislation:

  • Commerce Act 1986;
  • Human Rights Act 1993; and
  • Land Valuation Proceedings Act 1948.

From time to time additional members may be appointed, and members may have their terms renewed subject to the relevant legislation.

The appointment of lay members to particular cases is at the discretion of the High Court judges, but once a lay member has been appointed to a case, the lay member becomes a member of the court for the purposes of that case.

Appointments Under the Relevant Legislation

Commerce Act 1986

Section 77 of the Commerce Act 1986 allows for experts in industry, commerce, economics, law or accountancy to be appointed by the Governor-General as lay members of the High Court, to assist Judges in relation to particular High Court cases, including:

  • proceedings for the recovery of pecuniary penalties for contraventions of the provisions relating to restrictive trade practices of prohibited business acquisitions under the Act;
  • applications by the Commerce Commission for injunctions against such contraventions;
  • actions for damages for such contraventions; and
  • proceedings for the divestiture of assets or shares in respect of prohibited business acquisitions.

Under section 77(9) of the Act a Judge of the High Court and at least one additional member are necessary to constitute a sitting of the Court.

Lay members play a key role in ensuring that the expert evidence on complex competition issues is properly understood, tested and assessed by the High Court.

Human Rights Act 1993

Section 126 of the Human Rights Act 1993 allows for a panel of up to 20 lay members to be appointed to the High Court.  Under the Human Rights Act, an additional member may be required when:

  • a reference is sent to the High Court by the Tribunal in relation to the granting of a remedy in any proceeding; or
  • any appeal is lodged against an order or determination of the Tribunal.

Land Valuation Proceedings Act 1948

Section 3 of the Land Valuation Proceedings Act 1948 provides for the Governor-General to appoint two lay members of the High Court to assist the court in hearing appeals from the land valuation tribunals under a range of acts including the Rating Valuation Act 1998, the Public Works Act 1981, the Maori Reserved Land Amendment Acts 1997 and 1998.  Appointments are made for a term of five years and may be renewed.

The purpose of having a registered valuer as part of the court to hear the appeal is to add an expert valuation perspective to the assessing of evidence before the court and to assist the judge in reaching a fair decision according to law.  Under s13 of the Act, a judge of the High Court and at least one additional member are necessary to constitute a sitting of the court.  It is usual to have one appointee who specialises in urban land valuation and one who specialises in rural land valuation.




Criminal Proceedings

The High Court has jurisdiction to try all criminal cases involving indictable offences or cases where the defendant elects trial by jury.

Certain offences, because of their seriousness, can be tried only in the High Court. For instance murder and treason. Most indictable offences are in a 'middle band' category which can be heard either in the High Court or in the district courts. The High Court's criminal jurisdiction includes the sentencing of offenders who have been committed to it for sentence by a district court.




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