New Supreme Court of New Zealand planned

  • Margaret Wilson

After discussions that began back in 2000 and following wide consultation with stakeholders the Government has decided to establish a new Supreme Court of New Zealand and end appeals to the Privy Council, the Attorney-General Margaret Wilson announced today.

“Having a court of final appeal in New Zealand would mean more people will have access to justice,” she said. “It will also mean an increase in the range of matters able to be considered, and an improvement in the understanding of local conditions by judges on New Zealand’s highest court.

“For the first time there is also an opportunity for appeals from our specialist courts like the Family Court, the Environment Court, and Employment Court to now be heard at the highest level.”

Margaret Wilson said work would start soon on drafting legislation consistent with the Supreme Court model recommended by the Ministerial Advisory Group in its report on the reshaping of the country’s court appeal structure.

“This report recommends an independent Supreme Court sitting above the Court of Appeal with its own judges and separate premises. The Chief Justice, as the head of the New Zealand judiciary, would head the court and normally be the presiding judge. Four other permanent judges would include one judge well-versed in tikanga Maori.”

Appointing Supreme Court judges from within the New Zealand judiciary would not be difficult, Margaret Wilson said. “What many people do not realise is that our Court of Appeal judges sit on a vast majority of Privy Council cases.”

The Supreme Court would perform the traditional roles of the Privy Court – error correction, clarification and development of the law.

Margaret Wilson said the Government expected to introduce legislation to establish a new Supreme Court legislation before the general election.

“Obviously such a major change in the country’s court structure will take time to implement and I would not expect the new court to be up and running until at least 2004.”