Court (Criminal)

How it Works

See the extract below explaing the court systems from the Ministry of Justice website.

The majority of criminal cases go through the District Court.

In the District Court, a Justice of the Peace or a Community Magistrate, or a Judge could deal with your case.

All crimes (offences) are placed into categories. Serious charges such as murder and manslaughter are placed into Category 4 and will be heard in the High Court. Most criminal charges are heard in the District Court, either before a judge or by a jury trial, but if the charge is thought to be very serious it could be transferred to be heard in the High Court.

If you’re aged under 18 years and have been charged with a crime, you’ll go to the Youth Court.

Going to Criminal Court

If you’re going for your first appearance after being charged with a crime (called an offence), the date and time you need to be there will have been given to you at the time of your arrest or it will be on any summons served on you.

If you’ve already been to court, you’ll have been told the next date you need to come in.

If you’re on bail, the details will be on your Notice of Bail paperwork.

The letter (summons) will tell you:

  • your details
  • the details of any crime (offence) you’ve been charged with
  • the name of the court and date and time you need to appear
  • the consequences of failing to attend
  • information about appearing in court
  • how to get free legal help.

If you’re unsure about when or where to go, talk to your lawyer if you have one, contact us or call 0800 268 787.

A lawyer can speak on your behalf and represent you. If you have questions or want the judge to know something, you should talk about this with your lawyer before going into the courtroom or during a break.

Help on your first day

If you’ve been charged with a crime (an offence) and don’t have a lawyer, you can get help from the duty lawyer on your first day. They’re also called duty solicitors.

Types of crimes

Crimes (offences) are put into 4 categories depending on the maximum penalty for that offence and how serious they are. The categories decide:

  • the court you’ll appear in
  • the type of trial you’ll have

Category 1 offences are usually infringements and offences where there is only a fine imposed and are dealt with in the District Court. Category 4 offences, such as murder and manslaughter usually have a jury trial in the High Court.

New Zealand Courts

Below is a graphic that explains them in order of hierarchy.  More detailed information can be found here:

New Zealand Courts
New Zealand Courts

Most New Zealanders who go to court will go through the entire justice process in the District Court. Each year, 167 Judges in 58 courthouses deal with approximately 200,000 criminal, family, youth and civil matters. Judicial decisions from a representative sample of these cases are published here, with emphasis on significant decisions of particular interest. Selections are updated regularly in an independent process — overseen by an Editorial Board of judges. Alongside other background material, the publication of decisions on this website aims to enhance the open and transparent administration of justice in Aotearoa New Zealand.