The Law Commission has published recommendations arising from its review of New Zealand's court legislation.
Currently a combination of the Judicature Act 1908, the District Court Act 1947 and the Supreme Court Act 2003 provide the statutory foundation for New Zealand's trial and appellate courts. This statutory framework has been developed incrementally in piecemeal fashion (for example, the Judicature Act 1908 has been amended over 40 times). The purpose of the Commission's review is to update the current overlapping, patchwork regime to make the laws governing New Zealand's courts more accessible and intelligible to both lawyers and the public.
The Law Commission therefore recommends the consolidation, reorganisation and modernisation of court legislation. Among other recommendations, its report proposes:
- the abolishment of the High Court Commercial List and the establishment of a pilot commercial panel of judges to ascertain how a specialist panel system might work;
- the upper limit of the District Court's jurisdiction be increased to $500,000 (provided this is feasible in terms of judicial and court resources);
- a single "Courts Act" to govern the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, High Court (together the senior courts) and District Court; and
- a new, stand-alone "Judicial Review Act" governing judicial review and replacing the Judicature Amendments Act 1972.
The Law Commission's recommendations do not greatly alter the substance of the law. Rather, they provide a new, modern statutory home for the courts. The Law Commission did not consider legislation governing specialist courts such as the Employment Court, Māori Land Court and the Environment Court.
The Government has welcomed the report and is expected to respond to it in mid-2013.
The report, entitled Review of the Judicature Act 1908: Towards a new Courts Act, can be found on the Law Commission's website, here.