District Court

District Courts


The New Zealand District Courts have originating jurisdiction over all criminal matters. They deal with all but a small number of serious offences which are dealt with by the High Court. In its civil jurisdiction the District Courts can hear general claims up to $200,000.The Family Court and Youth Court are both divisions of the District Court.

These are the annual statistics for the District Court, including the Family Court, Youth Court, and Civil for 2015. Please refer to the glossary for the definitions of terms used in this commentary.

Criminal Jurisdiction

Total Criminal for District Courts
There was very little change in total criminal business for District Courts over the previous 12 months, a change from the downward trend that has been occurring since the peak volume recorded in 2009, where there was a 40% reduction in criminal new business between 2009 and 2014.
Comparing 2015 to 2014, this jurisdiction has seen a:

  • 1% decrease in new business to 134,068 cases (from 134,815)
  • 5% decrease in disposals to 130,676 cases (from 138,136)
  • 10% increase in active cases to 30,811 cases as at 31 December 2015 (compared with 28,109 as at 31 December 2014)

With the number of cases disposed falling, the number of active cases on hand rose steadily through the final 6 months of the 2015 year, leading to the 10% increase seen above.

Youth Court - subset of total criminal

All serious charges, except murder and manslaughter, relating to young people, and certain charges against children aged 12 and 13 must be heard and determined in the Youth Court.

The Youth Court is a specialist division of the District Court. Its processes, practices and statutory principles are markedly different to those of District Court cases involving adult defendants. The Youth Court process does not follow the standard criminal process of appear, convict and sentence. Cases are often not disposed of quickly, and higher clearance rates are not always seen as an optimum outcome.

While 2015 has seen Youth Court numbers continue to sit at historically low numbers, the decline that has been seen over the previous 5 years has flattened and begun to reverse, with a 2% rise in new business in 2015 compared to 2014. A 9% decrease in disposals and a 9% increase in active cases reflect the Youth Court approach of monitoring serious cases for longer periods of time.

Comparing the 2015 year to 2014, this jurisdiction has seen a:

    • 2% increase for new business to 3,997 cases (from 3,935)
    • 9% decrease in disposals to 3,807 (from 4,164)
    • 9% increase in 1,030 active cases as 31 December 2015 (compared to 941 as at 31 December 2014).

Jury trials – subset of total criminal

The jury trial jurisdiction deals with the more serious criminal cases. The District Court jury trial caseload consists of 98% cases commenced under the Criminal Procedure Act 2011 and just 2% commenced under the Summary Proceedings Act 1957 as at 31 December 2015.

There was a 6% increase in the number of new jury trials in 2015. The composition of new jury cases has also changed, with a higher number of cases where the lead charge was a violence category offence compared to 2014.

Comparing 2015 to 2014, this jurisdiction has seen a:

  • 6% increase of new cases to 2,746 (from 2,595)
  • 5% increase in disposals to 2,453 cases (from 2,746)
  • 4% increase in active cases to 2,003 cases as at 31 December 2015 (compared to 1,923 as at 31 December 2014)

Civil Jurisdiction

The majority of cases in the civil system are undefended, and are resolved without proceeding to hearing and are not included in figures.
Comparing the 2015 to 2014, this jurisdiction has seen a:

  • 19% increase in the number of newly defended cases to 739 (from 610)
  • 38% increase in the disposals of defended cases to 812 (from 590)
  • 7% decrease in the number of active defended cases as at 31 December 2015 to 544 (compared to 587 as at 31 December 2014).

The increases in volumes of new business and disposals for the civil jurisdiction are the continuing result of changes to the District Court rules that came into effect July 2014. These changes reintroduced the ability to apply for summary judgment early in the process and also enabled the court to identify whether a case was defended earlier in the process. This has resulted in increased volumes of defended cases, with 2015 being the first full calendar year subject to this new process.

Family Court Jurisdiction

The Family Court makes orders for any person (including the unborn) in need of care and protection. Not only is the age band wide but the variety of cases that come before the Court is considerable.

Statistics for the Family Court provided here are the numbers of applications as opposed to the number of cases. This is due to the fact that each case may involve several applications, which may be dealt with separately or together. Therefore, the numbers reported below do not represent either the numbers of litigants or substantive cases before the Family Court and are not representative of how cases are managed.

Applications are grouped under the following Case Types:

  • Care of Children Act
  • Children, young persons and their families
  • Dissolution
  • Domestic violence
  • Mental health
  • Protection of personal and property rights
  • Relationship property
  • Other

Comparing 2015 to 2014, this jurisdiction has seen a:

  • 3% decrease in new applications to 58,106
  • 4% decrease in disposals to 58,532
  • 5% decrease in the number of active applications to 22,422.


Total Criminal Court Workload Statistics
District Court Jury Trial Workload Statistics
Youth Court Criminal Workload Statistics
District Court Defended Civil Workload Statistics
District Court Family Application Workload