Overview

All criminal proceedings in New Zealand begin in the District Court. Only the most serious offences are referred to the High Court, and all others are dealt with entirely in the District Court.

Set out here are annual statistics for the District Court, including the Family Court, Youth Court, and civil jurisdiction for the 2017-2018 Fiscal year (ending 30 June 2018).

The Family Court and Youth Court are divisions of the District Court In its civil jurisdiction, the District Court can hear general claims up to $350,000.

Criminal (non-jury)  

The criminal jurisdiction makes up the largest proportion of the District Court's work. Most defendants will go through the entire justice process in a District Court, from first appearance until sentencing (if they are convicted), whether they plead guilty or not.

Criminal statistics are recorded by number of cases rather than people because each case may involve several charges or people.

At a national level, comparing the 2017/2018 fiscal year to 2016/2017, there has been a:

  • a 4% increase in new business to 129,052 cases
  • a 4% increase in disposals to 124,777 cases 
  • a 4% increase in active cases to 30,982 cases

The increase in active cases reflects how the court’s workload has become more complex and the charges more serious.

Jury trial

The right to trial by jury is protected in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990. Jury trials are reserved for more serious crimes, and a defendant has the right to elect a jury trial when he or she is charged with an offence punishable by a maximum sentence of two years’ imprisonment or more. In a jury trial, 12 members of the community rather than a judge decide whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty. The jury trial caseload is made up almost entirely of cases brought under the Criminal Procedure Act 2011.
 
Jury trial statistics are recorded by number of cases rather than people because each case may involve several charges or people. The figures do not capture the underlying complexity and time taken to deal with jury trials.

At a national level, comparing the 2017/2018 fiscal year with 2016/2017, there has been a:

  • 3% increase in new business to 3,374 cases
  • 4% increase in disposals to 2,936 cases
  • 8% increase in active cases to 2,534 cases

Youth Court

The Youth Court deals with offending by young people aged 14–16 years and may deal with younger children, aged 12–13 years, in certain serious circumstances.

About 20–30% of children apprehended by Police come to the Youth Court. The rest are managed by Police Youth Aid and the Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki. With a few exceptions, the Youth Court can hear and determine all charges against young people.

Youth Court statistics are recorded by number of cases rather than young people because each case may involve several charges or young people.

At a national level, comparing the 2017/2018 fiscal year with 2016/2017, there has been a:

  • 18% decrease in new business to 3,653 cases 
  • 16% decrease in disposals to 3,703 cases
  • 12% decrease in active cases to 918 cases

It should be noted that the Youth Court is a specialist division of the District Court. Its processes, practices and statutory principles are markedly different to those of District Court cases involving adult defendants. The Youth Court process does not follow the standard criminal process of appearance, conviction and sentence. Cases are often not disposed of quickly, and higher clearance rates are not always seen as an optimum outcome.

Family Court

The Family Court is the second biggest division of the District Court.
 
Working under more than 20 Acts of Parliament, its jurisdiction spans family matters from before birth to beyond the grave. These may relate to separation, marriage dissolution, spousal maintenance and child support, care and protection, adoption, surrogacy, custody, abduction, domestic violence and disputes about relationship property and estates of deceased people.
 
The court also deals with care and treatment issues for people with mental illness, intellectually disabilities and substance addictions held in compulsory care.

Family Court statistics are recorded by number of applications rather than cases or people because each case may involve several applications or people.

Defended Family Court statistics

Defended applications are disputed matters that are proceeding to a hearing and are included in the figures below.

Comparing the 2017/2018 fiscal year to 2016/2017, there has been a:

  • 14% increase in newly defended applications to 14,584
  • 3% increase in disposals to 12,087 applications
  • 14% increase in the number of active applications to 12,150   

Undefended Family Court statistics

Undefended applications are undisputed matters that are resolved without proceeding to hearing and are included in the figures below.

Comparing the 2017/2018 fiscal year to 2016/2017, there has been a:

  • 0.5% decrease in new applications to 59,804
  • 21% decrease in disposals to 46,259 applications
  • 5% decrease in the number of active applications to 13,796

Civil

The civil jurisdiction of the District Court resolves disputes between individuals or organisations.
 
A person who feels they have been wronged may bring a claim and, if successful, be awarded a remedy such as compensation. The District Court may hear claims up to a value of $350,000.

Defended civil cases

Defended civil cases in the District Court are disputed matters that are normally resolved by proceeding to hearing and are included in the figures below.

Comparing the 2017/2018 fiscal year with 2016/2017, there has been a:

  • 40% increase in newly defended cases to 895 cases
  • 6% decrease in disposals to 712 cases
  • 34% increase in active cases to 695 cases

Undefended civil cases

Most civil cases in the District Court civil system are undisputed (also known as undefended), and are resolved without proceeding to hearing and are included in the figures below.

Comparing the 2017/2018 fiscal year with 2016/2017, there has been a:

  • 3% increase in new business to 16,314 cases
  • 6% increase in disposals to 16,049 cases
  • 4% decrease in active cases to 7,996 cases

Annual statistics for the District Court, including the Family Court, Youth Court, and civil jurisdiction for the 2017-2018 year as a spreadsheet:

District-Court-Statistics-2017-2018.xlsx  (66.05 KB)