The District Courts
A single national District Court?
Issues Paper 29
12.4In Issues Paper 29, we noted that the New Zealand District Courts have evolved as if there is a single national District Court, but that this is not the way the courts are formally constituted under the District Courts Act. Rather, each of the 63 District Courts is a separate entity. We then went on to point out the practical issues this has raised, citing Johnson v Allen and Serious Fraud Office v Anderson, which we weighed against the problems that a unitary District Court has the potential to create.
12.5Even though some steps had already been taken to reduce the practical problems caused by the separate status of the courts, we still preferred a unitary model for the following reasons:
- Legislatively, it would be a relatively easy task to incorporate the District Courts into a single national court, as this is how the High Court is constituted;
- There would be no adverse implications for the allocation of cases and files between courthouses, as Rule 3.1 of the District Court Rules 2009 would continue to apply with little or no amendment required;
- Registrars and other court officials could be legislatively provided for in the same way as happens in the High Court; and
- It would be consistent with the proposed new operating model for the District Courts in Auckland.
12.6The majority of the submitters agreed with our proposal. Some noted that they had experienced problems like those identified in Issues Paper 29. Others made little or no further comment. Indeed, we suspect that a number of everyday users of the District Courts are unaware that they are each individually constituted, and believe that the proposed model is already in operation.
12.7One or two concerns were raised, however, about the flow-on effects of such a change. Some of these, such as any necessary amendments to the Justices of the Peace Act 1957, can be dealt with as consequential amendments in any new courts legislation.
12.8Another submitter was concerned about how the unitary model might affect the community and local incentives that are currently in place and operating in the District Courts. The submitter had a number of questions, all of which relate, in one way or another, to the ability of each District Court to adapt to meet the needs of its unique community.
12.9We are grateful these concerns have been raised, but consider they are more apparent than real. The movement from individual District Courts in each region to one unitary District Court, which sits in each of the same regions, is primarily a matter of form, rather than substance. For all intents and purposes, each District Court will continue to operate as it is currently, and will be free to develop to meet the needs of its community.
12.10In light of our recommendation that the courts legislation be consolidated into one Act, we consider that the case for one unitary District Court is even stronger, as it will enable there to be uniformity with the national High Court. It would be strange for the mechanics of these two courts (for example, provisions relating to registrars, offices and so on), both of whose primary business involves conducting civil and criminal hearings, to be different, and we have heard no suggestion that the current District Courts model is the more appropriate of the two.
R55 There should be one unitary District Court for New Zealand.