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The Law in New Zealand

The judicial system

New Zealand has an independent judiciary. The Chief Justice is appointed by the Governor-General on the advice of the Prime Minister. Judges are appointed by the Governor-General – generally, on the recommendation of the Attorney-General.

Supreme Court, Court of Appeal and High Court judges can only be removed from office by the Queen or the Governor-General, acting on a recommendation from the House of Representatives. District Court judges can be removed from office by the Governor-General. Lawyers who have held a practicing certificate for at least seven years are eligible for appointment as judges.

Courts of general jurisdiction

The courts of general jurisdiction deal with criminal and civil matters. Criminal matters are offences against the law that result in imprisonment or other penalties. Civil matters usually involve disputes, such as a breach of contract, defamation or claims for damages.

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court is the highest court in New Zealand. Established in January 2004, it hears appeals in both civil and criminal cases. The Chief Justice of New Zealand sits on the Court along with four other Supreme Court judges. It is the role of the Supreme Court to determine the law on issues of particular public or legal significance. Prior to 2004, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (which sits in London) provided these services to New Zealand.

Court of Appeal The Court of Appeal hears civil and criminal appeals from the High Court, the District Court and the Employment Court. Its role is to determine the law of New Zealand and resolve conflicting court decisions. It consists of the President of the Court of Appeal and six other judges.

The High Court

The High Court is made up of the Chief Judge of the High Court and 36 other judges. The judges are based in Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington and Christchurch, but travel on circuit to 14 other centres from Whangarei to Invercargill. The High Court deals with major crimes and the more significant civil claims. It also hears appeals from lower courts and tribunals.

District Court

New Zealand presently has 66 District Courts located throughout the country. They have extensive civil and criminal jurisdiction. Serious crimes, such as rape and armed robbery, can be transferred from the High Court to a District Court for trial.

Specialist courts

New Zealand has a number of specialist courts.
  • The Employment Court deals with labour relations.
  • Family Courts deal with matters such as custody, parental access, divorce, adoption, protection orders and the care and protection of children.
  • Youth Courts deal with offences committed by young people (older than 14 but younger than 17).
  • The Maori Land Court and Maori Appellate Court deal with matters relating to Maori land.
  • The Environment Court deals with resource management, planning and development matters. There are more than 100 tribunals, authorities, boards or committees. These deal with a wide range of disputes involving issues such as censorship, taxation, tenancy and employment. Some of the better known ones are the Employment, Disputes, Tenancy and Treaty of Waitangi Tribunals. Justices of the Peace Justices of the Peace (JPs) are appointed by the Governor-General on the recommendation of the Minister of Justice following nomination by Members of Parliament. There are about 10,000 JPs in New Zealand. JPs principally serve as witnesses for documents, such as statutory declarations, wills and insurance claims, although they can also grant search warrants and sometimes assist District Courts in adjudicating minor criminal and traffic charges. JPs are listed under 'Justices of the Peace' in the Yellow Pages. Jury service Juries in New Zealand are selected at random from the Electoral Roll. If you are enrolled as an elector and aged between 20 and 65, you may be selected to perform this important service. On most occasions, you will be asked to hear a criminal case. You can be excused from jury service only if there is a good reason, such as hardship, personal beliefs, childcare responsibilities or permanent disability. You may be exempted from service if you have served on a jury within the last two years.


    Lawyers are listed in the Yellow Pages under both 'Lawyers' and 'Barristers & Solicitors'. The distinction reflects the type of legal work lawyers specialise in: barristers deal with court work; solicitors with other legal work that does not require them to represent their clients in court. Most lawyers are qualified both as barristers and solicitors, but tend not to act in both capacities. Lawyers are required to treat all business as confidential, provide independent advice and use their skill for their client's benefit. As a profession, lawyers undertake a vast range of legal work. However, as far as most private citizens are concerned, they are generally employed to:
  • provide advice on legal rights
  • check legal documents
  • assist with immigration applications
  • provide conveyancing services for properties and businesses
  • prepare rental and lease agreements
  • draft wills
  • undertake divorce proceedings
  • arrange redress in cases of fraud or misrepresentation
  • provide representation in cases involving the Police.


    Legal fees vary widely. To avoid unpleasant surprises, it is always advisable to enquire about fees before commissioning any legal work.


    Legal aid is available only for matters that you cannot resolve without a lawyer acting for you in court, or to help you settle a matter out of court. You cannot get legal aid for divorce, or if you only want to talk to a lawyer. The aid is subject to numerous restrictions and may have to be paid back at a later date. Information on legal aid is available from Citizens Advice Bureaux and Community Law Centres, District Courts and other agencies. Most lawyers will also provide guidance.


    New Zealand is a modern democratic country in which human rights are protected. The Human Rights Commission is responsible for investigating complaints about discrimination and other human rights issues. It is an independent agency charged with protecting individual rights, resolving disputes and eliminating unfair and illegal practices. The commission also has the power to prosecute individuals and/or agencies contravening the Human Rights Act 1993.


    In New Zealand, the Office of the Ombudsman is an independent agency. Its main function is to assist private citizens with requests for official information, and complaints about local and central government agencies. There is no fee for making a complaint or an application to the Ombudsmen.

    The NZ Police

    By international standards, New Zealand is a remarkably safe and law-abiding society. The New Zealand Police do not routinely carry firearms. They have an excellent reputation and are generally considered helpful and friendly. Cases of police corruption are exceedingly rare. The Police enforce both criminal and traffic laws and undertake search and rescue missions. They also operate a range of community programmes, including Youth Education and Youth Aid services.

    Contacting the Police

    In emergencies dial 111. This is the general emergency number and operates free of charge from all private and public phones.

    In non-urgent situations, contact the nearest Police Station listed in the White Pages. For traffic incidents, *555 can be dialled from a mobile phone. For all emergencies dial 111 from anywhere in New Zealand.

    Neighbourhood Support

    Neighbourhood Support is a community-based programme actively promoted by the Police. It encourages citizens to take standard precautions and co-operate with their neighbours in crime prevention. These include common-sense procedures, such as keeping properties secure, depositing large amounts of cash at a bank and not holding money at home, safely depositing and/or insuring jewellery and other valuables, keeping an eye on neighbouring properties and reporting anything suspicious. It is advisable always to lock windows and doors when you leave home, and let your neighbours know if you plan to be away for any length of time. It is also a good idea to install deadlocks and leave your home looking 'lived in' when you go away. Most communities have Neighbourhood Support groups and it is best to ask about these when moving into a new home.

    Dealing with the Police

    In New Zealand, relations with the Police are good. In part, this is because the public has clear rights and obligations when dealing with the Police. The Police may not act arbitrarily; the public is expected to act responsibly. The following provides a brief outline of some of the rights and obligations that apply to the Police and private citizens.

    If the Police ask you to stop...

    The rule is simple – you must stop. If you are driving, you must stop and give your name, address and any other details needed for identification. You are required to carry your driver licence at all times and will be asked to present it. You must also give the name and details of the vehicle's owner or hirer. However, once you have provided this information, it is your decision whether you answer any more questions – you do not have to. You are entitled to talk to a lawyer before you answer, or make a written or oral statement.

    If the Police ask you to go with them... You do not have to unless you agree to do so, or you are under arrest, or the next paragraph applies. If the Police suspect you have been driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs...

    The Police will ask you to undergo a compulsory roadside alcohol breath test. If this test is positive, you are required to accompany the Police to a testing station for the purposes of giving an evidential breath test, blood test or both.

    If the Police want to search you or your home, vehicle or property... The Police cannot conduct a search without your consent, unless the next paragraph applies.

    If the Police have a search warrant, or specific statutory authority...

    They must, first, tell you what this specific authority is –there is a range of search powers. Common cases include specific powers to:
  • stop a vehicle if someone in it is subject to an arrest warrant or has committed an offence punishable by imprisonment
  • search the vehicle for an offender or for criminal evidence
  • search premises or a vehicle for controlled drugs. If the Police want to take your fingerprints... They can do so only if you agree, or if you have been formally placed under arrest. If you are questioned by the Police, make sure that...
  • The person is a Police officer – a Police officer in plain clothes must show their identification card which includes their photograph and name.
  • What you say to, or write for, the Police is exactly what you mean. If you have difficulties, ask for assistance and/or an interpreter. If you are suspected of having committed a crime, but have not been arrested, you can...
  • Choose whether or not to answer any questions, or make a written or verbal statement.
  • Generally, leave the Police Station when you wish. However, if you have been detained for a blood/ alcohol test, you cannot leave until this has been completed. If you are suspected of having committed a crime, and have been arrested, you...
  • Have the right to consult a lawyer without delay and in private – there should be a list of lawyers at the Police Station. If you request advice from a lawyer included on the Police Station's list, this initial legal counsel is provided free of charge.
  • Must give your name, address, occupation, and date and place of birth.
  • Must allow the Police to take fingerprints and photographs and, in certain circumstances, conduct a search. The Police can, for example, search for criminal evidence or for weapons or objects that could be used in an escape. However, it is generally illegal for the Police to search a person (or their car or house) for no other reason than the fact of their arrest.
  • May be permitted to contact a friend or relative and request permission for them to visit you at the Police Station. Such requests are usually granted, but can be declined on the advice of the Police officer dealing with the investigation.
  • May ask to be 'released on bail'. This means you are allowed to go home until you have to appear in court on a set date to 'face charges'. Bail is not an automatic right. There are also usually conditions attached – such as not being allowed to leave the country. There are special rights for children and young people aged under 17 years. The Police officer must explain their rights in a way they can clearly understand and ensure that another adult or a lawyer is present when they make a statement.


    In New Zealand it is illegal to have a gun for self-defence. All firearms and guns must be licensed and can be used only for lawful purposes.


    The New Zealand Police take family/domestic violence very seriously. Do not be afraid to ask for help. Violence is unacceptable wherever it happens and no matter who is the victim. The Domestic Violence Act 1995 provides protection against physical, sexual and psychological violence. Psychological violence includes the use of intimidation, harassment, damage to property, threats of harm, and allowing a child to see or hear abuse. 'Protection orders' are provided under the Domestic Violence Act for people in 'close personal relationships'. These include married and unmarried couples, children and relatives, and same sex partners. A protection order can be obtained whether or not the Police take criminal action. Help is available from a number of agencies including the Police, Community Law Centres and Citizens Advice Bureaux. High School counsellors are also available to assist and the Women's Refuge provides sanctuary for mothers and their children.

    Paying Tax

    Inland Revenue is the government department that collects taxes – it is popularly referred to as the IRD. The New Zealand tax year is from 1 April to 31 March. Most people pay their taxes as they earn their income. Employers deduct tax on salary and wages. Banks and other financial institutions deduct tax on interest as it is derived. People who do not pay tax on all of their income as it is earned are required to file tax returns at the end of the tax year (31 March) to work out their tax liability. In most cases, Inland Revenue will send you all the material you need to file tax returns and make payment.

    IRD numbers

    An IRD number is a unique identifying number that you use for all your contacts with Inland Revenue (similar to a bank account number). You will need an IRD number before you start a job or open a bank account. Otherwise, your employer or bank will deduct the 'no declaration' rate of tax from your salary. This rate is much higher than the standard deduction rates and will significantly reduce the net income you receive.

    Business IRD numbers

    There are different requirements for getting an IRD number for businesses:
  • Sole trader – use your personal IRD number. If you don't have one, fill in an IR 595 to apply for one.
  • Partnership – use an IR 596 with the list of names and IRD numbers of each of the partners.
  • Company – use an IR 596 with a copy of the company's certificate of incorporation.

    To request these forms visit Inland Revenue or freephone: 0800 257 773 (INFOexpress).

    Income Tax

    Salary and wage earners

    Most people who earn salary and/wages will pay the correct amount of tax during the year. There are some people though, who need a square-up at the end of the year. If you are one of those people, or you think you might be entitled to a tax refund, you can get a personal tax summary (PTS). A PTS is available for salary and wage earners if you need to pay additional tax at the end of the year, or believe you are entitled to a tax refund. The Personal Tax Summary uses information provided to Inland Revenue by your employer(s) to preprint a PTS with your income and deduction details for the year. If you receive a PTS you must check it for any missing or incorrect details. Personal Tax Summaries are issued from June onwards and anyone can request one.

    IR 3 Tax Returns

    You would be sent an IR 3 if you:
  • are self-employed
  • had income from a business or rental property
  • received income that is not taxed at source
  • received overseas income.

    Child Support

    Child Support is money paid to support children when couples are not living together or have separated. The money is paid by the parent who is not living with the children to the person with whom the children are living. Inland Revenue works out the amount of Child Support the paying parent must pay. The amount is worked out each year using a formula, which takes into account the number of children to be supported and the paying parent's income and living expenses. Inland Revenue usually administers Child Support payments. For further information, freephone: 0800 221 221.

    Contacting Inland Revenue

    Complete listings of Inland Revenue's Freephone numbers and office locations are included in The White Pages as well as the IRD website. If you have an IRD number please have it ready when you call.


    If you earn income from salary, wages or a social security benefit, your tax will be deducted under the pay-as-you-earn (PAYE) system. This means that the pay you get from your employer has already had tax deducted.

    ACC levies

    Inland Revenue is the agent for collection of the employees' Earner Levy as part of your PAYE deductions. These levies provide insurance cover when people suffer an accident outside of their work. Resident Withholding Tax (RWT) You pay Resident Withholding Tax on interest you earn from bank accounts or other investments. The bank or investing organisation deducts this when they credit interest to your account. You need to provide your IRD number and choose the correct rate of tax for your income level. Companies may also deduct withholding tax from dividends paid to shareholders.

    Family Assistance

    Family Assistance is financial help for low- to middle-income families with children who are 18 years or younger who are not financially independent. It is not a benefit but recognition that not everyone can comfortably afford all the costs of bringing up a family.

    To be able to receive Family Assistance you must either:
  • be a New Zealand resident and have been in New Zealand continuously for at least 12 months at any time. You need to be a tax resident and be resident in New Zealand when you apply for your payments
  • be caring for a child who is both resident and living in New Zealand. If you and your children are in New Zealand unlawfully or hold only a temporary permit or visa, then for Family Assistance purposes, you are not considered a New Zealand resident. If you recently arrived in New Zealand and meet the residence conditions, you will need to attach a copy of your residence permit to your application for Family Assistance.

    How much you can get depends on:
  • how many children 18 years or younger you have living with you
  • how much you and your partner earn (your total family income)
  • where you get your income from. Inland Revenue pays Family Assistance to families whose main income is from working. It can be paid either fortnightly or as a lump sum after the end of the tax year (31 March). If your only income is from an income-tested benefit, Work and Income pay any entitlement to you as part of your benefit.

    Student Loans

    The Student Loan Scheme is available to students studying at tertiary level (after secondary school). This helps towards the cost of studies and books.

    The three organisations involved in the Student Loan Scheme are:

  • the Ministry of Education, which advises the Government about student loan policies
  • Work and Income (a service of the Ministry of Social Development), which processes loan applications and manages student loan accounts in the year the money is borrowed
  • Inland Revenue, which collects student loan repayments when you start to earn over the repayment threshold.

    To get a student loan you need to be studying at a tertiary institution, and be in a programme approved by the Minister of Education. You must also be 18 years or older (if you are under 18 years, you need a parent's consent). You need to be a New Zealand citizen, a permanent resident, or a refugee entitled to live in New Zealand indefinitely.

    The amount you get depends on:

  • how much your fees are
  • whether you are studying full or part-time
  • the duration of your study programme
  • whether you receive a student allowance (for living costs)
  • whether you or your partner get a benefit.

    A student loan has four parts:

  • compulsory fees
  • course-related costs
  • living costs
  • a $50 administration fee.

    A student loan is a debt and you must:

  • pay back any money you borrow, including interest, which is currently 7%. If you decide to take out a student loan, it is wise to borrow only the amount you need for your studies
  • start repaying your loan at the rate of 10 cents per dollar earned over $16,588. If you think you will earn more than this from your main job between 1 April 2006 and 31 March 2007, you must tell your employer you have a student loan and use the M SL tax code. You can save money by making voluntary payments at any time and for any amount. You can do this even if you are earning under the repayment threshold, or you can simply make additional repayments above the amount you are required to pay.

    By paying your loan off faster you can save yourself a lot of money in interest.

    You may be eligible to have your student loan interest for the year cancelled/written-off if:
  • you are a New Zealand tax resident, and a full-time, full-year student (that is, studying for a minimum of 32 weeks and your course is equivalent to at least 80% of full-time study). a part-time or part-year student earning $26,799 or less in the tax year 1 April 2006 to 31 March 2007.
  • you are going overseas for more than three months and will not be: having repayment deductions made from any of your income in New Zealand, and/or making any interim repayments.

    You must let Inland Revenue know before you leave. The IRD will need a contact address, either overseas or in New Zealand, so it can send you notices and statements.


  • New Zealand Government Official gateway to New Zealand Government online.

  • Accident Compensation Corporation Provides information on accident insurance scheme payments. Freephone: 0800 222 776

  • Updates on Government news and policies.

  • Ministry of Justice Comprehensive information on the structure of New Zealand's judicial and courts system. Also available is a good outline of the New Zealand legal system.

  • Elections NZ Information on registering to vote. Freephone: 0800 367 656 (0800 ENROLNOW)

  • Guide to New Zealand's parliamentary system

  • Work and Income Information on Family and Income Support. Freephone: 0800 559 009

  • Inland Revenue Detailed information about tax and social policy, and online access to booklets, returns, forms, newsletters and public rulings, and the many other services offered.

    Calls within New Zealand
    Personal tax enquiries: 0800 227 774 (includes getting an IRD number and information on refunds and rebates)
    Family Assistance: 0800 227 773
    Business tax enquiries: 0800 377 774
    Goods and Services Tax (GST): 0800 377 776
    Student loan enquiries: 0800 377 778
    Child Support: 0800 221 221

    Calling from overseas

    The numbers below include dialling codes for New Zealand, but not the international access prefix, because this varies from country to country.

    All business, student loan and personal customers
    All enquiries: +64 4 801 9973

    Child Support

    All enquiries +64 9 368 5695
    If you have an IRD number please have it ready when you call.
  • Legal Aid Services Government-funded agency providing legal aid.
  • New Zealand Transport Agency
    Allocates government funding for land transport and promotes land transport sustainability and safety. Website includes information on New Zealand's land transport system, driver licensing, road rules and private vehicle imports.
    Freephone: 0800 822 422 for licensing enquiries or 0800 699 000 for general road safety information.
  • New Zealand Police General information, including safety tips, crime statistics and Police recruiting.

    Free from any phone, including cell phones: 111 in an emergency
    In non-urgent situations, contact the nearest Police Station listed in The White Pages.

    For information on traffic incidents,
  • *555 can be dialled from a mobile phone.
  • Neighbourhood Support
    Community-based crime prevention programmes.


  • Local Government New Zealand For information on New Zealand's local government and links to your council. For local listings refer to the 'Government Services' page in The White Pages.
  • Community Law Centres Local listings in The White Pages.
  • Justices of the Peace Look in the Yellow Pages.
  • Consumers Institute of New Zealand Up-to-date guide on consumer rights and prices of goods in New Zealand.

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