The Role and Structure of the High Court
Supervisory Role of the High Court
The Judicature Act 1908 divides the courts of New Zealand into 'inferior courts' and 'superior courts'. An inferior court is defined in s2 as 'any court of the judicature within New Zealand with inferior jurisdiction to the High Court'.
Decisions of the High Court are binding on all lower courts until overruled by the Court of Appeal or Supreme Court. Because of its position in the judicial structure, the High Court is the court to which application is made for authoritative declarations of law.
The Court of Appeal is the third tier of this overall structure. It supervises, through appeal, the judgments of the High Court and ensures consistency in application of the law in the High Court.
To the existing general supervisory/appeal jurisdiction of the High Court, there are four exceptions:
- Appeals from jury trials in the district courts go directly to the Court of Appeal.
- Appeals from the Employment Court on questions of law are taken directly to the Court of Appeal.
- Appeals from the Courts Martial Appeals Court go directly to the Court of Appeal.
- Appeals from the Mäori Appellate Court go directly to the Court of Appeal.
The High Court has the particular responsibility of ensuring the legality of the conduct of all sections of the community including inferior courts and tribunals and the protection of legal rights and immunities. Although there is a wide range of statutes providing for appeals to the High Court from such courts and tribunals, through judicial review, the High Court secures the legality of all public sector conduct including that of inferior courts.
The obligation to supervise by judicial review is exercised both under common law inherent powers and under the Judicature Amendment Act 1972. The power to supervise is central to the maintenance of law through judicial process. The High Court has no power, however, to supervise Parliament. The High Court cannot invalidate Acts of Parliament.
The jurisdiction of the High Court is largely conferred or systematised by statutes. In addition, however, the High Court has inherent common law jurisdiction. No other court within the New Zealand legal system has a non-statutory substantive jurisdiction. The existence of such inherent jurisdiction means there is never a vacuum in obtaining vindication of right according to law.
The court has all the jurisdiction which it had on the introduction of the Judicature Act 1908 and all judicial jurisdiction which may be necessary to administer the laws of New Zealand. The court therefore has both the statutory jurisdiction and inherent jurisdiction which is necessary for it to undertake its supervisory function.
Judges of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal are High Court judges but are not included in this figure. Following the establishment of the Supreme Court, the position of Chief High Court Judge was established. The Chief High Court Judge is ‘responsible to the Chief Justice for ensuring the orderly and prompt conduct of the High Court's business'.
Associate judges have a specialist civil jurisdiction and undertake a range of companies and insolvency work. They have extensive jurisdiction in interlocutory matters including summary judgment applications, and they have jurisdiction to assess damages. Associate judges were formerly known as masters of the High Court and appointed for fixed terms. From 20 May 2004, masters were renamed associate judges and secured permanent tenure.
Temporary and acting judges of the High Court can be appointed where the Chief Justice and the Chief High Court Judge consider it is necessary. The High Court uses acting judges and temporary judges very sparingly, where there is a temporary shortfall in the judicial workforce.
The High Court is a single national court which sits in a number of courthouses in different parts of the country. Judges are permanently located in Wellington, Auckland and Christchurch. High Court judges from the three main centres go on circuit to other locations as needed.The work of the court is organised nationally by the Chief High Court Judge to ensure a match between judicial resources and work.
You might be interested in:
- Daily Lists
- Decisions of Public Interest
- Practice Notes
- High Court Judicial Reports
- Court Contacts
- Communication with Judges