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5 min read - June 09, 2022


How do you sue someone in New Zealand? What options do I have? What can I expect? Can I represent myself? Can I recover my costs? What can I do with a judgment?

These are all common questions to think about when a legal dispute arises and will be answered in this three part series:

Part 1: The Court System

Part 2: The Hearing Process

Part 3: Enforcement & Costs


The Court System

In New Zealand, there are a variety of different ways to commence proceedings depending on the amount of the dispute and the type of dispute.

The different types of venues are set out in the below visual representation:


Generally, to determine which jurisdiction you should commence proceedings in, you will need to ask yourself the two following questions:

What is my claim about?
How much is my claim?

Depending on your answer to the questions above, you will be able to determine which Court you should commence your proceedings in.

The Tribunals & Authority

The Disputes Tribunal

The Disputes Tribunal is a small claims tribunal that hears claims where the total amount sought in the proceedings does not exceed $30,000. It is an informal process that focuses on quick, flexible, and inexpensive resolution of disputes. The Disputes Tribunal make decisions based on the justice of the case rather than law. Because of this, no lawyers can represent the parties and appeals on the decisions of the Disputes Tribunal will only be heard on the basis of procedural unfairness.

The Tenancy Tribunal

The Tenancy Tribunal hears residential tenancy disputes and body corporate issues for apartments. Claims in the Tenancy Tribunal must not exceed $100,000. Parties can only instruct lawyers on claims that exceed $6,000, however, most people choose to self-represent. Parties can appeal decisions of the tenancy tribunal to the District Court.

The Employment Relations Authority

The Employment Relations Authority hears employment related claims. The Employment Relations Authority is different from the other Courts because it imposes an inquisitorial system meaning that the authority members conduct an investigation on the dispute. It is a relatively informal court and focuses on inexpensive resolution of disputes. Parties can appeal decisions of the Employment Relations Authority to the Employment Court which is a more formal process and has the same standing as the High Court. Any appeals to the Employment Courts are made to the Court of Appeal, but only on issues of law.

The Immigration Protection Tribunal

The Immigration Protection Tribunal is a specialist body that hears appeals of decisions made by Immigration New Zealand. The claims heard in this body usually relate to decision to decline resident class visas, recognition as a refugee or protected person, or liability for deportation. The immigration protection tribunal make finding of facts, apply the relevant law, and make a determination, usually on humanitarian grounds.

 Building Dispute Tribunal (Construction Contracts Act)

The building disputes tribunal is a specialist company that hears claims on building and construction disputes. Whilst it is called a ‘tribunal’, it is closer to a private company that offers dispute resolution processes that aims to resolve disputes in a cost effective and efficient manner compared to litigation. The different processes involved includes adjudication, arbitration, arb-mediation, mediation, expert determination, and early neutral evaluation.

The Courts

The District Court

The District Court deals with civil and criminal proceedings up to the amount of $350,000. It is a much more formal process than the tribunals, therefore, it is recommended that parties are represented by a lawyer. Appeals to the decisions of the District Court are heard in the High Court.

The High Court

The High Court deals with claims based on the offence/charge, not the monetary value. The High Court is the highest court in New Zealand that is able to hear cases at first instance before any appeals. This is a much more formal process so it is recommended that parties are represented by a lawyer. If the party involved is a company, they must be represented by a lawyer. Any appeals to the decisions of the High Court are heard in the Court of Appeal.

The Court of Appeal

The Court of Appeal is New Zealand’s immediate appeal court. It hears appeals from the High Court, serious criminal matters from the District Court, Employment Court and the Maori Appellate Court. This Court has a key role in developing legal principle, making corrections to errors, and ensuring consistency in the decisions of the lower Courts. Any appeals to the Court of Appeal are heard in the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court

The Supreme Court is the highest court in New Zealand and the final appeal court. Appeals to the Supreme Court can only be heard with the leave of the court and will not be granted unless it is satisfied that it is necessary in the interest of justice for the court to hear and determine the proposed appeal.

 The Specialist Courts

Environment Court

The Environment Court deals with issues relating to the Resource Management Act 1991. This Court hears appeals about the contents of regional and district plans and appeals on resource consent applications. Appeals on decisions made in the Environment Court are heard in the High Court.

 Maori Land Court

The Maori Land Court determines issues to do with the status of Maori land. The objective of this court is for Maori land and General land owned by Maori to be retained in the hands of its owners and for the owners to be able to use, manage, and develop the land effectively. Appeals on decisions made in the Maori Land Court are heard in the Maori Appellant Court. Parties can appeal decisions of the Maori Appellant Court to the Court of Appeal.

 Look out for part 2, where we will discuss the hearing process and how these various Courts work. If you have any questions regarding litigation, don’t hesitate to get in touch with Julia Leenoh from K3 Legal.



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