The judicature modernisation reforms – now awaiting third reading – represent the most significant revamp of the court system since enactment of the Judicature Act 1908.

We outline the key changes. Most provisions will commence in March 2017.

Key change in the committee stages

Section 3(2) of the Supreme Court Act 2003, underlining New Zealand’s continuing commitment to the rule of law and the sovereignty of Parliament, has now been carried forward into the Bill.

The failure to include it in the first draft was controversial as it appeared to institute a substantial constitutional change in a Bill that was intended to be a procedural reform.

Other reforms

The Judicature Modernisation Bill has now been split into 15 Bills, which will be passed as separate Acts.

  • The Senior Courts Act will bring the High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court Act into a single Act with the express purpose of improving the transparency of court arrangements. Requirements to achieve this include: publishing information on the status of reserved judgments, electronic publication of judgments and the development of recusal guidelines.
  • The District Court Act will merge New Zealand’s 58 separate District Courts into a single District Court of New Zealand, creating the largest court in Australasia. The Act will also broaden the civil jurisdiction of the District Court by increasing the monetary threshold for civil matters from $200,000 to $350,000.
  • The Judicial Review Procedure Act will modernise the style and language of the provisions governing judicial review procedure, without changing the effect of the Judicature Amendment Act 1972.
  • The Interest on Money Claims Act will provide a simplified statutory regime for the award of interest on claims for debts and damages.
  • The Electronic Courts and Tribunals Act will set out processes for using electronic documents in New Zealand’s courts and tribunals.

Chapman Tripp comments

The improvements to accessibility and the simplification of language achieved by the Judicature Modernisation reforms should create greater certainty over procedure.

The clearer legislative basis for using electronic documents should help courts and practitioners to take maximum advantage of technology.

Both will allow litigation to be conducted more efficiently.