Parliament has passed a package of legislation to modernise New Zealand's court system. The majority of the changes will come into force on 1 March 2017.
The High Court
The Senior Courts Act 2016 replaces both the Judicature Act 1908, which currently governs the High Court and the Court of Appeal, and the Supreme Court Act 2003. For the most part, the new Act replicates the previous legislation while modernising the language to make it easier to read. However, there are some interesting changes, including:
- judges of the High Court and the Court of Appeal may be authorised to work part-time, although this does not extend to the Supreme Court;
- the High Court Rules, which have always been a schedule to the Judicature Act, will be part of the Senior Courts Act but will be published separately, as if they are a separate legislative instrument, so that they are simpler to locate;
- there are specific provisions for the restriction on commencing or continuing proceedings for vexatious litigants, which was previously dealt with solely through the inherent jurisdiction of the court; and
- a requirement for the Attorney-General to publish information explaining the process for seeking expressions of interest for the appointment of judges, and for recommending people for appointment, to increase transparency in the process.
Judicial reviews in the High Court will now be covered by their own legislation, the Judicial Review Procedure Act 2016. Again, this new legislation aims to update the style and language of the Judicature Amendment Act 1972, which previously governed judicial reviews, but is not intended to make substantive changes.
The District Court
The District Court Act 2016 has some technical changes, but also a substantive change that will be of significance to everyone.
The most important change to the District Court is that the civil jurisdiction is increasing from proceedings where the amount claimed does not exceed $200,000 to now have a limit of $350,000. It is therefore likely that the number of civil proceedings in the District Court will rise.
As something that will probably only be of interest to lawyers, the composition of the District Court is changing. The District Courts have previously been structured as a number of individual courts around the country. They will now be reconstituted as a single court with multiple offices, which matches the set-up of the High Court. The District Court will have separate divisions for the Family Court, Youth Court, and Disputes Tribunal. As in the High Court, a judge in the District Court may be authorised to sit part-time.
Interest on judgments
The Interest on Money Claims Act 2016 creates a new Act dealing with interest on judgments, rather than this information being contained within the different pieces of legislation for the various courts.
Interest will be payable on all money claims, at a rate which will fluctuate in accordance with the term deposit rate. This means that the rate will no longer need to be adjusted through the issuing of Orders in Council.
This Act requires the Ministry to establish a website with an interest calculator, which is to be used by everyone for the calculation of interest. The website calculator will be set up to allow the payment of instalments to be taken into account.
Electronic courts and tribunals
The Electronic Courts and Tribunals Act 2016 paves the way for documents to be filed in the courts electronically, rather than requiring paper.
This change is unlikely to happen immediately when the legislation comes into force as the courts will need to establish procedures for the electronic payment of fees, and amendments will need to be made to various court rules and practice notes. The Chief Archivist will also need to agree to the electronic retention of documents that are a public record. Nevertheless, this is an important step forward in the process.
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