A modernised legal framework in the pipeline

Following the Law Commission’s recent review of the Judicature Act which was passed in 1908, Justice Minister Judith Collins has unveiled Government proposals aimed at modernising the legal framework for many of New Zealand’s courts.

The Commission’s recommendations were published in Review of the Judicature Act 1908: Towards a new Courts Act. Ms Collins predicts public confidence in the justice system will be improved by the proposed changes. “These changes are important because they will improve the flexibility, responsiveness and transparency of the court system.”

The legislative framework in New Zealand is governed by several different Court Acts, but the 100-year old Judicature Act has been amended so often during its lifetime that the law governing court framework is in need of overhaul. Ms Collins says the intention is to change “outdated and inaccessible legislation”.

The Government’s planned changes include:

  • replacing the Judicature Act and Supreme Court Act with a Senior Courts Act;
  • repealing the District Courts Act and re-enacting it as a modernised District Court Act;
  • taking steps to improve and clarify rights to access court record information, for example, statistical information about court cases and expenditure;
  • making the processes and criteria for appointing judges more transparent by requiring the judicial selection and recommendation process to be published by the Attorney-General;
  • enabling specialist panels of judges to be assigned to hear particular types of cases in the High Court;
  • improving flexibility for the court to limit vexatious proceedings; and
  • extending the District Court’s jurisdiction to allow it to deal with civil cases where the amount in dispute is up to $350,000, rather than the current threshold of $200,000.

On the issue of transparency of judgments, Ms Collins said “The Government is still considering whether publishing lists of reserved judgments is the most appropriate approach. We are continuing to consult with the judiciary, and are reviewing how overseas jurisdictions report reserved judgments.

Ms Collins said that modernising the court legislation would complement other Government initiatives for a more modern, accessible and people-centred justice system, which is the motivation behind changes to criminal procedure, a new courts service delivery model and reforming the Family Court.

A new Courts Bill will be introduced later this year.

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