High Court

High Court

Criminal jurisdiction - year ended 31 December 2015


On 1 July 2013, the procedural provisions affecting criminal trials changed with the commencement of the bulk of the Criminal Procedure Act 2011 (CPA) provisions. Currently the High Court trial caseload is made up predominantly of cases commenced under the Criminal Procedure Act 2011 (CPA) and a small number of cases commenced under the Summary Proceedings Act 1957 (SPA).

Under the CPA, cases that are High Court-only offences (generally murder/manslaughter) have their first appearance in the District Court and are then managed in the High Court from second appearance onwards. The rest of the trials to be heard in the High Court are known as “protocol cases”. [1] Protocol cases are made up mainly of serious sexual, violence, drug and fraud offences. After a case review hearing in the District Court, a High Court judge determines whether the protocol case should be heard in the High Court or District Court. If the case is ordered to be heard in the High Court, it is counted as a High Court case from that time.

As there are two procedural regimes in place, decisions were made about how to describe the caseload of criminal trials, to enable valid volume comparisons across years. Cases are counted as ready for trial under the SPA once they are committed for trial, and they are counted as ready for trial under the CPA once they have had a case review hearing or protocol determination.

Criminal trials


In 2014 there was an unusually low level of new trials with only 179 received. In the year to 31 December 2015, the number of new criminal trials received by the High Court was 220.

At 31 December 2015, there were 150 active criminal trials. This is a 12% increase compared to the end of 2014 when there were 134 trials. Active trials have returned to a similar level to 31 December 2013 (154 cases). Of those 150 active criminal trials, 137 (91%) follow the CPA process.

Another result of fewer new cases in 2014 is that there were fewer cases ready to be disposed in 2015. The total number of cases disposed [2] decreased by 12% to 183; down from 208 in the year to 31 December 2014. 22 of these cases were transferred to the High Court from the District Court for sentencing.

The reduction in new trials during 2014 also had an effect on the number of trials held in 2015. There was a decrease of 38, from 114 in the 2014 calendar year to 76 in 2015.

A feature of disposals in 2015 was an increased number of guilty pleas. The number of trials disposed in that manner has increased by 14%, 49 cases were disposed of before the trial due to a guilty plea. Those guilty pleas accounted for 36% of all disposals in 2015.

As at 31 December 2015, the median waiting time to trial following case review (or from committal) was 347 days, an increase of 15 days from the same time the previous year (332 median days).

Over 80% of the cases disposed followed the CPA process. The average age of CPA cases disposed was 382 days. High Court-only offence cases took an average of 336 days and protocol cases took 427 days. [3]


Criminal Appeals

The number of new criminal appeals changed little over the 2015 year. There were 1,119 new criminal appeals filed in the 12 months to December 2015, down from 1,139 in the previous year.

Over the same period there were 1,170 disposals, a slight decrease from the 1,178 in the previous year.

As at 31 December 2015, there were 153 active appeals, a 21% decrease from 31 December 2014, when there were 194 active appeals.

Criminal Footnotes

[1] See s 66 CPA and the most recent Court of Trial Protocol

[2] “Disposed cases” are defined as having a final outcome, e.g. sentence, acquittal, dismissal, withdrawal, or joined to another case. The number of disposed cases will affect the number of trials able to be held in a year, as very long trials will affect when new ones can begin.

[3] Protocol cases generally are older than High Court-only offences as they are subject to some statutory timeframes before they reach the High Court. The statutory timeframe to case review for protocol cases is 84 days (60 working days) and the protocol decision is expected to be made shortly after case review (5-10 working days maximum).

Civil jurisdiction - year ended 31 December 2015


Civil cases in this context include: general proceedings, judicial reviews, and originating applications.

Insolvency cases are bankruptcy cases (where an adjudication application has been filed) and company liquidations.

Civil appeals are matters in the civil jurisdiction appealed to the High Court from either the District Court (including the Family Court) or a tribunal.

The reporting for the 2015 annual statistics does not include claims of historic abuse occurring within state institutions. The significant majority of these cases are concluded by confidential settlement carried out with little input by the Court. They are excluded because they do not follow the normal process for progression through the Court. For this reason new business, disposal, and active case data for general proceedings in the 2015 annual statistics cannot be compared to annual statistics published prior to June 2012.

Overview of trial performance

During the year, 13% of civil disposals were determined by trial, similar to the 14% figure the year before. This remains a high rate compared to other common law jurisdictions.

The past year has seen the average time to disposal for general proceedings disposed of by trial increase by 136 days, while the median age increased by 195 days. This increase in the median and average age of general proceedings disposed of by trial has been driven in part by the disposal of some very old cases.

Overview of whole of the civil jurisdiction

The number of new civil cases filed showed little change over the past year, with 2,510 new civil cases filed in the High Court in 2015 compared with 2,526 in 2014.

Auckland’s share of new filings reduced to 46% of all civil cases filed from 51% in 2014.

There were 2,456 civil cases disposed, almost the same as in the previous year where there were to 2,473.

As at 31 December 2015 there were 2,024 active civil cases (awaiting hearing or judgment), up by just under 3% from the previous year, when there were 1,969 active civil cases.

General proceedings

General proceedings are most representative of a standard civil dispute brought to court. The top three types of general proceedings claims over the past 12 months were “Contractual disputes” at 14% of the claims filed, “Debt Recovery” cases at 11% and “Building Defects – weathertight claims” at 7%. [1] The number of civil claims filed in 2015 related to the Christchurch earthquakes is now 58, down from 193 cases in 2014. These figures exclude Social Welfare/Pikari cases as they are not managed in the normal way.

Waiting time to trial [2] for 89% of short cause [3] general proceedings on hand is less than 12 months; and for 95% of long cause [4] general proceedings on hand is less than 18 months. This latter figure is a 7% improvement on the same point the previous year. Both these figures are above the performance targets set by the High Court, which aim to have a target compliance rate of 80%.

Insolvency proceedings

The number of insolvency cases filed in the High Court has been declining since the start of 2011, after a significant increase in filings over several years that peaked in early 2009. As at 31 December 2015, there were 609 active insolvency proceedings (awaiting hearing or judgment), a decrease of 6% compared to the previous year when there were 647 active insolvency proceedings.

Appeal proceedings

There were 320 civil appeals filed which is a 4% decrease compared to 2014. The number of active civil appeals (awaiting hearing or awaiting judgment) has barely changed since 31 December 2014; there were 176 active appeals at 31 December 2015 compared to 172 active appeals 12 months previously.

[1] Since 1 January 2013 the High Court has recorded the nature of claims for new General Proceedings filings.

[2] Waiting time is measured from the date the case was deemed ready for hearing to the future hearing date.

[3] Short cause general proceedings have an estimated hearing time of 5 days or less

[4] Long cause general proceedings have an estimated hearing time of more than 5 days


Workload Waiting time*
High Court national workload statistics
High Court criminal trials workload statistics High Court criminal trial waiting time for scheduled hearing
High Court criminal trials held
High Court civil proceedings workload statistics High Court civil proceedings waiting time for scheduled hearing
High Court insolvency workload statistics
High Court criminal appeals workload statistics
High Court civil appeals workload statistics


* Notes on waiting times