Criminal jurisdiction

The District Court is the primary court where criminal cases are initiated. Every person charged with a criminal offence will make their first appearance in the District Court, even if their charge will ultimately be heard in the High Court.

Most defendants go through the entire justice process in the District Court, from their first appearance until sentencing (if they are convicted), whether they plead guilty or not guilty.

On this page:

The work of the Criminal Court

The  criminal jurisdiction makes up the largest proportion of the District Court's work. Between June 2016-June 2017, the District Court disposed of 137,153 criminal cases, over 95% of all New Zealand's criminal trials. More statistics about District Court criminal trials can be found in our Annual Reports.

The District Courts have a broad criminal jurisdiction. They can hear very serious offences such as rape and aggravated robbery, as well as minor offences such as disorderly behaviour.

Cases the District Court can't hear

The only charges that cannot be heard by the District Court are murder, manslaughter, some treason-related offences, and other offences as agreed annually between the Chief District Court Judge and the Chief High Court Judge*. These cases are heard in the High Court.

*The latest list of agreed offences can be found on the New Zealand Gazette website.

Specialist Criminal Courts

District Court Judges are involved in a number of specialist Criminal Courts.

These include:

  • The Alcohol and other Drug Treatment Court/Te Whare Whakapiki Wairua
  • The Family Violence Court
  • The New Beginning Court/Te Kooti o Timatanga Hou
  • The Matariki Court
  • The Court of Special Circumstances.

You can find out more about these on the page Specialist Criminal Courts.