New Zealand’s specialist courts have been created to provide different treatment for certain types of cases. The specialist courts each have particular rules.
The most important court
In a 2004 speech Principal Family Court Judge Peter Boshier said, ‘Arguably, the Family Court is the most important Court as far as the public is concerned. It is a Court dealing with human experiences from pre-birth right through to post-death. It is a Court to which people come not because they have broken the law but because they need assistance or are in crisis. A whole range of human behaviour is on parade, from the joy and elation of a new baby being adopted through to the anguish of a bitter separation, the anguish of having to look after and make arrangements for an elderly parent and finally the grief of adult siblings in conflict over a deceased estate.’1
The Family Court was created in 1980 in the hope of playing a constructive role in reconciling family differences and breakdowns, rather than simply dealing with the aftermath of misery. A specialist group of judges and lawyers has grown up around the court. The system has reduced the sufferings the traditional common law approach to family law produced.
The Environment Court developed in a similar way. A new comprehensive law, the Resource Management Act 1991, designed to promote sustainable management of the environment – water, land, air and coastline – required specialist judges and different procedures from the ordinary courts.
Māori Land Court
The Māori Land Court is the oldest of New Zealand’s specialist courts, having dealt with the alienation of Māori land since 1865 (when it was called the Native Land Court). It makes judgements on multiple ownership of Māori land, and on other issues relating to Māori land. Appeals from that court go first to the Māori Appellate Court.
The Employment Court is constituted by the Employment Relations Act 2000, and has functions under that act to regulate industrial relations.
The Youth Court deals with young offenders in a manner that is appropriate for their age.
The Coroners Court is established under the Coroners Act 2006. It has the purpose of helping to prevent deaths and to promote justice through investigation and identification of the facts and circumstances of sudden and unexplained deaths. Coroners make recommendations and public comments about cases.
Court Martial Appeal Court
The Court Martial Appeal Court sits over the top of the military justice system.