New Zealand Law Society - Update from the Chief High Court Judge

Update from the Chief High Court Judge

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I will report more fully to the profession and public shortly on 2014 but here are some matters of interest.

Analysis of discovery and case management rules reforms

A review of the changes to discovery and case management rules which came into effect in 2012 and 2013 suggests increasing co-operation between counsel and a reduction in the number of case management events in the court (churn) have occurred.

These are pleasing results. A summary of the findings can be found on the Rules Committee page on the Courts of NZ website at


In addition to the court’s usual workload in crime, last year there were several very lengthy criminal trials including the 20 week long South Canterbury Finance fraud trial and two drugs trials in Auckland of 12 and 18 weeks respectively.

Last year the criminal jurisdiction, category 4 (murder/manslaughter) criminal cases were able to be given a trial date generally within 12 months of first appearance. Protocol cases which have been directed to be heard in the High Court do not have such prompt dates due in part at least to teething problems with the process.

In the civil jurisdiction, the GFC-initiated bubble in new filings has receded and time to trial continues to trend downward. Other changes likely to have had an effect on timeliness are the changes to case management rules and setting down practices. At the right is a time series graph of average age for civil trial disposals.

In the criminal jurisdiction, despite a drop in the number of criminal cases on hand, the estimated days to hear those cases has remained reasonably steady for the last four years as shown in the graphs below (the recent rise is due a number of particularly long trials scheduled for Wellington this year).

Graph showing estimated hearing time in days

graph showing monthly average of case age at disposal 


The Judicature Modernisation Bill had its second reading on 18 February.

The Rules Committee is to consult with the profession on a set of rules for access to court records. These rules are designed to be easier to follow and to provide a clearer framework as to how such applications will be decided. The revision also combines rules for access to both civil and criminal records.

The Court of Trial Protocol (which lists the classes of offence for which a High Court decision is required as to the court in which the defendant will be tried) has been reviewed and replaced with a new version that applies to offences committed on or after 1 February 2015. Offences from the Financial Markets Conduct Act 2013 have been included along with clarifications to the criteria for sexual violation of a complainant under 16 and aggravated robbery. From now on there will be an annual review of the Protocol to take into account any new legislation.

Admission ceremonies

The court has clarified its approach to admission ceremonies in smaller provincial centres. The court recognises the desirability of admitting candidates to the Bar in their local community. However admission ceremonies, like all business of the court, depend on the availability of a judge. The practice in larger centres is to programme time for admission ceremonies but it is difficult to anticipate whether and when any applications might be heard in smaller centres.

Where a candidate wishes to be admitted in a small registry, the admission ceremony will be arranged when a judge is scheduled to sit there as part of normal circuit duties. Candidates should be aware, however, that if other proceedings set down for hearing on that day in that location do not proceed, the ceremony may be rescheduled to a later date and that this may occur at short notice. We will make every effort to ensure this does not occur.

Contact with the profession

Last year, I met with practitioners in Tauranga, Hamilton and Dunedin. This year I hope to visit other provincial centres. Regular meetings with representatives of the profession in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch will continue.

Judicial matters

Three judges have retired in recent months: Justice Panckhurst, Associate Judge Abbott and Justice Ronald Young.

Justice Goddard will retire from 7 April to chair the British Independent Panel Inquiry into Child Abuse.

Justice Muir was sworn in in November and Justice Hinton in January. Both judges are based in Auckland. Justice Nation, who will sit in Christchurch, was sworn in on 20 February. Two judges have changed common rooms. Justice Brown is now based in Wellington and Justice Whata is based in Auckland.


Justice Helen Winkelmann is the Chief High Court Judge.

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