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Criminal & traffic law

Overview of how the criminal courts work

The four offence categories for different levels of seriousness

Category 1 offences: Fines or community-based sentences only

Criminal Procedure Act 2011, ss 6, 71

These are offences where you can only be fined, or sentenced to a community-based sentence like community work or supervision, rather than jail. You’re case will be seen at the District Court, and usually by a Justice of the Peace or a Community Magistrate rather than a judge.

An example of a category 1 offence is careless driving (that doesn’t cause injury or death).

Category 2 offences: Less than two years’ jail

Criminal Procedure Act 2011, ss 6, 72

These are offences with a maximum penalty of less than two years in jail. If you plead not guilty, your trial will be in front of a judge sitting without a jury. Usually this will be in the District Court.

There are offences in Category 2 where a company or other corporate body (not a person) can be punished by a fine but where the punishment for a person committing that same offence would be up to two years’ jail.

Category 2 offences could include common assault or a first or second drink driving conviction.

Category 3 offences: Two or more years’ jail

Criminal Procedure Act 2011, ss 6, 73

These are offences with a maximum penalty of a jail term of two years or more (but excluding Category 4 offences). Usually these are heard by the District Court. You have the option of either being tried by a judge alone or having a jury trial.

Category 3 offences could include aggravated assault, threatening to kill, dangerous driving or a third (or more) drink driving conviction.

Note: Usually if you’re charged with a Category 3 offence you have to choose whether or not to have a jury trial at the time that you plead not guilty, which will usually be within three weeks after being charged. So it’s very important that you get good legal advice very early on.

Category 4 offences: Very serious crimes

Criminal Procedure Act 2011, ss 6, 74

These are the most serious offences, including murder, manslaughter, torture and terrorism offences. They’re dealt with in the High Court. Usually there’ll be a jury trial, but a judge-alone trial can be ordered in some cases.

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The criminal courts

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Community Law

www. communitylaw.org.nz

Your local Community Law Centre can provide free initial legal advice and information.

“Lag Law: Your rights inside prison and on release”


Lag Law answers heaps of common questions you might have if you’re going to prison, you’re in prison, or you’re getting out of prison. It talks about your rights in prison, and sets out the laws and rules that affect you when you’re put in prison.

Order hard copies from:
Community Law Wellington and Hutt Valley
Phone: (04) 499 2928
Email: laglaw@wclc.org.nz

Ministry of Justice


The Ministry of Justice website has a range of pamphlets and other information on topics covered in this chapter. You can access this information online, or you can order hardcopies of the pamphlets from:

Phone: 0800 587 847
Email: publications@justice.govt.nz


Ministry of Justice Collections Unit – www.justice.govt.nz/fines

Phone: 0800 4 FINES (0800 434 637)
From overseas: +64 4 915 8586
From Australia: 1800 144 239 (toll free)

You can check or pay your fines by phone or online. The website has information about both infringement fines and court-imposed fines, and about reparations. The website also has information about District Court Collections Units.

Department of Internal Affairs – www.passports.govt.nz/what-you-need-to-renew-or-apply-for-a-passport/before-you-travel/

This webpage has information about paying your fines to avoid being stopped at the border.

Phone: 0800 PAYORSTAY (0800 729 677)

“Giving evidence” (Law Society pamphlet)


This pamphlet is for people who have to give evidence in court as a witness.

You can order hardcopies from the New Zealand Law Society:

Phone: (04) 472 7837
Email: pamphlets@lawsociety.org.nz

Department of Corrections


This website has information:

for offenders

for family and friends of offenders

about the Department of Corrections’ role in the community, including community work, supervision, home detention, and the role of probation officers

about the New Zealand Parole Board.

Victim Notification Register


This page on the Department of Corrections website has information about the victim notification register including, the process, how to apply, information victims can receive and how to make a complaint.

Restorative Practices Aotearoa


This website provides information on when Restorative Justice may be appropriate, and where in New Zealand Restorative Justice is available. You can also make an enquiry about Restorative Justice by filling out a form on their website.

Phone: 0800 RJA INC (0800 752 462)

Victim Support


Victim Support provides 24-hour support services to help New Zealanders rebuild their lives following a trauma or crisis.

Phone: 0800 842 846
Email: nationaloffice@victimsupport.org.nz

Victims Information


This is the website of the government’s “Victims Centre”. The site provides links to a range of services available to help victims deal with the practical and emotional effects of the crime, at each stage of the criminal and youth justice process.

Phone: 0800 650 654

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