New Zealand Law Society - New Zealand's judiciary at 14 March 2019

New Zealand's judiciary at 14 March 2019

This article is over 3 years old. More recent information on this subject may exist.

On 14 March as our new Chief Justice was sworn in, New Zealand had a permanent judiciary of 237. They had been members of the judiciary for an average of 10 years and 6 months and 65% were men.

The following table shows the judiciary in each of the courts at 14 March, with the average time since appointment over judicial careers and also since appointment to a particular court. Acting judges are not included. At that date there were also one Acting Supreme Court Judge (male), 26 Acting-Warranted District Court Judges (5 women and 21 men), two Acting Māori Land Court Judges (both male) and one Acting Employment Court Judge (male). Judge Damian Stone was sworn in as a Māori Land Court Judge on 22 March and is not included in the table below.

New Zealand judiciary at 14 March 2019

Court Women Men Total Avg. time as Judge Avg. time in this court
Supreme 3 2 5 17y 9m 4y 4m
Appeal 2 7 9 12y 1m 2y 11m
High 14 26 40 6y 10m 5y 9m
Associate High 1 7 8 8y 1m 6y 10m
Employment 2 2 4 4y 7m 4y 3m
Māori Land 5 6 11 12y 4m 12y 4m
District 55 105 160 11y 3m 11y 3m
Total 82 155 237 10y 6m  

Average ages

Judicial retirement is required when a judge turns 70. Inquiries to judicial offices and supporting agencies indicate that the average New Zealand judge can expect about another decade in office before reaching retirement age.

The Crown Law Office has advised that the average age of all senior court judges, excluding Associate High Court judges, is 61.2 years old. The Office of the Chief District Court Judge advised that the average age of a Distict Court judge is 60. The average age of permanent Māori Land Court judges is 52.


Information on judicial ethnicity was sought from the judicial offices and supporting agencies. The last public information came from the 2013 Census. This showed that in March 2013, 93% of judges said they were of European ethnicity, with 10.8% saying they were of Māori ethnicity. Unfortunately 2018 Census details will not be available until near the end of 2019.

The Judicial Office for Senior Courts did not provide information on the ethnicity of senior courts. The office of the Chief District Court Judge stated at 1 March 2019, 18 District Court judges were Māori, 3 were Pasifika, and 2 were Indian. It noted that some judges identify with more than one ethic group. The Māori Land Court advised that of the 11 permanent and two acting members of the Court, 11 identified with and had Māori ancestry.

Education and legal career

Information on the careers of senior court judges shows that the highest number completed a law degree at the University of Auckland. Associate Judges are included in the High Court figures. Information is not available for the other courts.

Completion of law degree by senior courts judiciary

Court Auckland Canterbury Otago VUW
Supreme 3 1   1
Appeal 3 1 2 3
High 16 10 7 15
Total 22 12 9 19

Exactly half of the senior courts judiciary were practising as barristers on appointment – either as Queen’s Counsel or barristers sole. District Court judges are more likely to be working in law firms on appointment, with 31% practising as barristers on appointment.

Role on appointment to judiciary

Court Law firm Sole Practice Queen’s Counsel Barrister sole Govt. Other *
Supreme 2 1 1 1
Appeal 5 3 1
High 15 15 10 6 2
Employment 1 1 2  
District 86 10 2 48 8 6
Māori Land 6 1 4
Total 115 10 22 61 17 12

* Includes universities, local authorities, NZ Law Society, NZ and international tribunals.

Supreme Court judges were first appointed to the judiciary on average 19.8 years after their admission as barristers and solicitors. Court of Appeal judges were first appointed an average of 26 years after admission and High Court judges were first appointed to the judiciary on average 29.8 years after their admission as barristers and solicitors. Detailed information is not available for the other courts.

District Court judges

The Environment Court is not a division of the District Court but all Environment Court judges are considered District Court judges. Of the nine Environment Court judges, three are women and six are men. Environment Court judges have had an average of 11 years and 6 months since their appointment.

While 34% of District Court judges are women, analysis of the warrants issued shows that 47% (27 of 58) of the Family warrants are held by women. However, just 21% of civil trial warrants (10 of 48) are held by women. Women hold 23 (43%) of the 54 Youth Court warrants and 30% (32 of 105) of jury trial warrants.

Longest tenure on the bench

Of permanent members of the judiciary who are serving at present, District Court Judge David Saunders has been longest on the bench, since 3 December 1993. Other judges who have a long tenure are Judge Tony Adeane (16 December 1993), Judge Jane Lovell-Smith (3 March 1994), Judge Brian Callaghan (7 July 1994), District Court Chief Judge Ann-Marie Doogue (21 July 1994) and Māori Land Court Chief Judge Wilson Isaac (11 March 1994). The longest-serving member of the Supreme Court bench is Justice William Young (appointed 1 July 2010), with Justice Christine French (6 August 2012) longest-serving for the Court of Appeal, Justice Geoffrey Venning longest-serving for the High Court (appointed a Master – Associate Judge – in 1995 and then a High Court Judge in November 2002), and Chief Judge Inglis longest-serving for the Employment Court (September 2011).

And remuneration

Judicial remuneration is set by the Remuneration Authority under the Remuneration Authority Act 1977. The latest determination was made on 18 December 2018 and set remuneration for the period from 1 October 2018. In this the Authority abolished a principal allowance for general expenses, saying it “is redundant in this modern world”. From now on, judicial remuneration includes the grossed-up principal allowance for general expenses. Some positions received a higher increase to address historical relativity issues.

The Authority is required to have regard to a number of factors when setting judicial remuneration and allowances. The total remuneration in the latest determination is as follows. The combined salary and principal allowance determination for the previous year is shown for comparison:

Total salaries (including principal allowances)

Judicial officer 1 Oct 2018 1 Oct 2017 2017 to 2018
Chief Justice $553,100 $540,300 ▵ 2.4%
Judge of Supreme Court $518,400 $506,300 ▵ 2.4%
President of Court of Appeal $518,400 $506,300 ▵ 2.4%
Judge of Court of Appeal $486,500 $474,800 ▵ 2.5%
Chief High Court Judge $486,500 $472,800 ▵ 2.9%
Judge of High Court $464,100 $452,400 ▵ 2.6%
Associate Judge of High Court $369,000 $345,000 ▵ 7.0%
Chief District Court Judge $463,200 $451,800 ▵ 2.5%
Principal Family Court Judge $397,600 $393,200 ▵ 1.1%
Principal Youth Court Judge $385,700 $371,300 ▵ 3.9%
Principal Environment Judge $385,700 $371,300 ▵ 3.9%
District Court Judge $348,700 $345,000 ▵ 1.1%
Chief Judge of Employment Court $434,900 $430,000 ▵ 1.1%
Judge of Employment Court $393,100 $388,900 ▵ 1.1%
Chief Judge of Māori Land Court $397,600 $393,200 ▵ 1.1%
Deputy Chief Judge of Māori Land Court $375,100 $371,000 ▵ 1.1%
Judge of Māori Land Court $348,700 $345,000 ▵ 1.1%
Lawyer Listing for Bots