District Courts

Prior to June 2009, new business entering the courts increased significantly. Since December 2009, the trend has reversed and all jurisdictions, apart from civil, have experienced continuous reductions in the levels of new business coming into the courts.

Refer to the Glossary for more detailed definitions

Criminal  jury trial jurisdiction

The jury trial jurisdiction deals with more serious criminal cases, after defendants are committed for trial.

The number of cases (new business) committed for jury trial in the District Court has decreased by 4% in the last year, from 3,360 in 2010 to 3,239 cases in 2011. Over the same period, the number of disposals has decreased by 285 cases (9%). Consequently the number of active cases has increased by 8%, from 2,412 cases at 31 December 2010 to 2,608 cases at 31 December 2011.

This is in contrast to the years of significant volume growth and pressure on court throughputs between 2007 and 2010, where new business increased by 15% and disposals increased by 12%, resulting in an increase of 39% for total active cases. Two major changes to the law in the last four years has had a significant impact on growth in District Court jury workloads. These changes are:

  • a new committal process that allows a registrar to commit a case to trial more quickly without preliminary testing of evidence in court.
  • middlebanding of class A drug cases, which means simpler class A drug cases are heard in the District Court, rather than the High Court.

The lack of suitable hearing facilities in Christchurch, as a result of the earthquake on 22 February 2011, has contributed to the recent increase in active cases. To help manage the workload more than 90 trials have been transferred to other South Island courts since the earthquake. Jury trials started being heard in Christchurch again in February 2012.

The Criminal Procedure Act 2011 introduces a number of changes to procedure (to be implemented in 2013) that will reduce future new business volumes, case length, and active caseloads. These changes include:

  • a raised threshold for jury trials to two years or more imprisonment
  • greater use of judge-alone trials
  • improved case management preparation by parties.

Criminal - summary jurisdiction

The summary jurisdiction deals with less serious criminal cases. These cases are heard by District Court judges, community magistrates, and justices of the peace. This is the busiest jurisdiction in the court system.

There has been a reduction (9%) in new business from 185,625 cases in 2010 to 168,613 cases in 2011. This was primarily as a result of Police making greater use of pre-charge warnings. This approach aims to divert lower-end offences away from prosecution and court processing.

Disposals have decreased by 11% from 188,242 disposals in 2010 to 168,245 in 2011. Over the same period active cases have decreased by 6% from 35,457 in 2010 to 33,414 active cases at 31 December 2011. The number of cases with a scheduled defended hearing has decreased by 9% from 5,086 at 31 December 2010 to 4,805 at 31 December 2011.

Youth Court

The Youth Court is part of the District Court and deals mostly with people aged between 12 and 16 years old. The Youth Court is a closed court and deals with offending by children and young people that is too serious to be dealt with any other way. It hears all cases to do with young people, except murder and manslaughter, or when a young person chooses to have a jury trial.

The summary jurisdiction of the Youth Court deals with less serious criminal cases for offenders aged 14 to 16. These cases are heard by District Court judges, who focus on encouraging the young person to take responsibility for their offending.

During 2011, both new business and disposals decreased from the previous year. There was a 3%* decrease in new cases in 2011 (4,972) than in 2010 (5,147) and 7% fewer disposals in 2011 than 2010.

* amended from 10% on 27 March 2012

Civil jurisdiction

Defended new business has increased by 5% from 589 in 12 months ending December 2010 to 618 in 2011. This follows an earlier decline in business attributed to the introduction of the District Courts Rules 2009. The new Rules encourage parties to settle their cases without court involvement, which has reduced the number of defended cases from 2009. The 5% increase in 2011 was expected as some of the first cases filed under the new 2009 Rules have reached the defended hearing stage because they have not been able to reach a settlement.

The number of disposals for defended cases decreased by 388 cases or 33%; there were 780 disposals in 2011, down from 1,168 disposals in 2010. However, the number of cases disposed during 2011 (760) is higher than the number of new cases (618). There were 623 active cases at 31 December 2011, down 20% from 31 December 2010.

Family jurisdiction

Substantive applications rather than cases are counted in the family jurisdiction because various applications within any one case may be managed separately.

Substantive applications are grouped into the following types:

  • adoption
  • alcohol and drugs
  • child support
  • children, young persons and their families (CYPF)
  • dissolution/marriage
  • domestic violence
  • estates
  • family proceedings
  • guardianship (Care of Children Act)
  • Hague Convention
  • mental health
  • protection of personal and property rights (PPPR)
  • relationship property
  • miscellaneous.

The number of new applications and the number of disposals have decreased, by 6% and 5% respectively from 2010 to 2011. There were 64,472 new applications filed in the 12 months to December 2011 and 65,010 disposals in the same period. As a result, the number of active substantive applications at 31 December 2011 (26,825) represents a decrease of 2% from 31 December 2010.

The Early Intervention Process (EIP) was introduced in the Family Court on 12 April 2010. The EIP is a judicial initiative that aims to respond to delays in dealing with Care of Children Act 2004 (CoCA) applications by providing earlier access to judicial intervention in cases where there is some urgency. CoCA applications represent around 60% of all active applications.


District Court National Workload Statistics
District Court Pre-Committal Workload Statistics
District Court Jury Trial Workload Statistics
District Court Criminal Summary Workload Statistics
Youth Court Pre Committal Workload
Youth Court Criminal Summary Workload Statistics
District Court Defended Civil Workload Statistics
District Court Family Application Workload