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The Role and Structure of the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court is New Zealand's final court of appeal.

According to the Supreme Court Act 2003, it was established to recognise New Zealand as an independent nation with its own history and traditions, and improve access to justice and enable important legal matters, including those relating to the Treaty of Waitangi, to be resolved with an understanding of New Zealand conditions, history, and traditions.

As the court of final appeal, the Supreme Court has the role of maintaining overall coherence in the legal system.

Appeals to the Supreme Court can be heard only with the leave of the court. It must give leave to appeal only if it is satisfied that it is necessary in the interests of justice (s12 and s13 Supreme Court Act 2003).

The court can sit only as a bench of five to hear substantive appeals. It is able to appoint retired judges of the Supreme Court or Court of Appeal (under the age of 75) where it is not possible to convene a court of five permanent members.

The judges of the Supreme Court continue to be judges of the High Court, which maintains the formal integration of the higher courts judicature. The Supreme Court Act does not expressly prevent the Supreme Court’s judges sitting in the High Court. However, it is not appropriate, except in exceptional circumstances, for judges of the Supreme Court to sit in the lower court on a case which could end up before the Supreme Court.


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