Introduction and summary

Judicature Act 1908

The Judicature Act 1908 (the 1908 Act) is one of the sources of the New Zealand constitution. Together with the Supreme Court Act 2003 and the District Courts Act 1947, it provides the statutory foundation for the primary courts of the New Zealand judicial system.

The 1908 Act began life as a consolidation statute, amending and consolidating the law relating to the Supreme Court (the forerunner of today’s High Court) and the Court of Appeal.1  Section 16 of the Act recognises and affirms that the High Court has “all the jurisdiction which it had on the coming into operation of this Act and all judicial jurisdiction which may be necessary to administer the laws of New Zealand.” By virtue of the earlier provisions of the Supreme Court Acts of 1860 and 1882, the High Court has all the jurisdiction possessed by the superior courts in England at the time the 1860 Act came into force.

The 1908 Act has been amended more than 40 times since its enactment. Many of the sections in the Act are outdated, and it contains “hidden provisions”, namely those dealing with substantive commercial law and the judicial review provisions in the Judicature Amendment Act 1972.

The 1908 Act is divided into parts as follows:

(a) Part 1, which relates to the constitution, jurisdiction, practice, procedure, judges and officers of the High Court;
(b) Part 1A, which contains special provisions applying to certain proceedings in the High Court and the Federal Court of Australia;
(c) Part 2, which relates to the constitution and jurisdiction of the Court of Appeal; and
(d) Part 3, which is entitled “rules and provisions of law in judicial matters generally”, and covers a range of broadly court-related matters.
1P Spiller, J Finn and R Boast A New Zealand Legal History (2nd ed, Brookers, Wellington, 2001) at 209.