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map courtesy CIA World Factbook; click for enlargementConstitution, Government & Legislation

New Zealand has a parliamentary system of government closely patterned on that of the United Kingdom and is a fully independent member of the Commonwealth. It has no written constitution.

Executive authority is vested in a cabinet led by the prime minister, who is the leader of the political party or coalition of parties holding the majority of seats in parliament. All cabinet ministers must be members of parliament and are collectively responsible to it.

The unicameral parliament (House of Representatives) has 120 seats, six of which currently are reserved for Maori elected on a separate Maori roll. However, Maori also may run for, and have been elected to, non-reserved seats. Parliaments are elected for a maximum term of 3 years, although elections can be called sooner.

Source: U.S. Department of State

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Courts & Judgments

There are 71 courts in New Zealand, from Kaitaia in the north to Invercargill in the south. They include the Court of Appeal, the highest court in New Zealand, three High Courts, 42 District Courts, 14 combined High and District Courts, and a further two District Courts with High Court Registries, which means they can carry out the functions of both High and District Courts. There are two small courts where the local police officer acts as the court registrar. The Court of Appeal, based in Wellington, hears and decides appeals from the High Court and appeals after jury trials in the District Court. New Zealanders also have access to the Privy Council in England, which can review special civil, and criminal cases on appeal from the Court of Appeal. There is now some debate about the relevance of the Privy Council to the modern New Zealand legal system.

The High Court hears and decides the most serious criminal charges, as well as large or important civil cases, some matrimonial property cases and some appeals from the District Court. The High Court also oversees the power of the tribunals. High Court Judges are called 'Justice', followed by their surname.

The District Court includes Disputes Tribunals, Family Courts and the Youth Court. The District Court hears and decides:

  • Criminal cases
  • Civil cases up to $200,000
  • Disputes up to $3,000 (or $5,000 if both parties agree), through the Disputes Tribunal
  • Family and marriage disputes and complaints concerning care, custody and control of children, through the Family Court and
  • Charges against young people, through the Youth Court

The District Court also regulates business activities. Judges of the District Court are called 'Judge' followed by their surname.

There are a number of specialised tribunals, committees and boards which act either as licensing or reviewing bodies or as dispute and appeal authorities. They monitor, regulate and enforce certain legislation. Examples: Environment Court; Motor Vehicle Disputes Tribunal.

The Waitangi Tribunal is a special tribunal established to hear claims relating to the Treaty of Waitangi.

Source: Government of New Zealand

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Legal Profession

All New Zealand lawyers are on the roll as barristers and solicitors. They can take out practising certificates as both and practise in partnership or alone. They can also practise alone as a barrister who, in general, must take instructions through a solicitor. A solicitor must have had three years' legal experience out of the last eight years before commencing practice on his or her own account. A barrister practising alone may become a Queen's Counsel. Candidates for admission to the legal profession must have the LLB course from one of the five law schools and have completed a 13-week full-time professional legal training course subsequent to the degree. The LLB course normally takes four years.

Source: Kime's Directory

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