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. In the year ending June 2021, the District Court disposed of 84,284 criminal cases – over 95% of all New Zealand's criminal cases. 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 (external link)website.
Specialist Criminal Courts
District Court Judges are involved in a number of specialist Criminal Courts.
- 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.