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Criminal & traffic law

The trial


Who decides the outcome of my case?

Criminal Procedure Act 2011, ss 6, 71-74

Your case may be heard and decided by a judge alone or by a judge and jury, depending on the seriousness of the charge and, in some types of cases, what you (“the defendant”) choose:

  • For Category 1 cases, (where penalty less than two years jail): your case is heard by a judge, Justices of the Peace or a Community Magistrate in the District Court.
  • For Category 2 cases (where penalty is less than two years jail): your case is heard by a judge alone in the District Court.
  • For Category 3 cases (the offence carries a jail term of two years or more): you have the right to choose a jury trial, which will usually be in the District Court. Otherwise, the case will be heard by a judge alone in the District Court.
  • For Category 4 cases (with the most serious offences, such as murder, torture or terrorist acts): the charges will usually be dealt with by a High Court jury trial.

For the different categories of offences, see “Overview of how the criminal courts work / Four offence categories” in this chapter.

Your basic rights under the Bill of Rights Act when standing trial

New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, ss 24-26

Under the Bill of Rights there are two key restrictions on what you can be tried for:

  • No retrospective convictions – you can’t be convicted of an offence if the thing you did wasn’t a criminal offence at the time that you did it
  • Double jeopardy – you can’t be tried or punished for an offence if you’ve already been convicted or found not guilty of the offence, or if you’ve been pardoned for it

If you have to stand trial, these are your rights:

  • No undue delay – you have the right to be tried without unnecessary delay
  • A fair hearing – you have the right to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial court
  • Presumption of innocence – you have the right to be presumed innocent until you’re proven guilty according to the law
  • No forced confessions – you have the right not to be forced to be a witness or to admit guilt
  • Your presence at the trial – you have the right to be present at your trial and to defend yourself (which is usually done through a lawyer)
  • Witnesses – you have the right to question the prosecution’s witnesses. You have the right to present your own witnesses and for those witnesses to be questioned under the same conditions as prosecution witnesses
  • Right to trial by jury – you have the right to a trial by jury if the offence you’re charged with has a penalty of more than three months’ jail
  • Interpreters – every person who’s charged has the right to have the free assistance of an interpreter if they can’t understand or speak the language used in court.
Next Section | Evidence and witnesses

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The criminal courts

Where to go for more support

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

Also available as a book

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