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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 is less than two years’ imprisonment): 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’ imprisonment): your case is heard by a judge alone in the District Court.
  • For Category 3 cases (the offence carries a prison 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: “Four offence categories”.

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 two years’ imprisonment
  • 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

Your local Community Law Centre can provide you with free initial legal advice.

Find your local Community Law Centre online: www.communitylaw.org.nz/our-law-centres

Access the free “Lag Law: Your Rights Inside Prison and on Remand” book. This book answers heaps of common questions you might have if you’re going to prison, in prison, or getting out of prison.

Online: communitylaw.org.nz/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Lag-Law-text-2021-1.pdf
Email for a hard copy: publications@wclc.org.nz
Phone: Community Law Wellington and Hutt Valley – 04 499 2928

Ministry of Justice

The Ministry of Justice provides useful information about court procedure for criminal matters.

Website: www.justice.govt.nz/courts/criminal

Paying your fines

You can learn about, check or pay your fines (infringement and court-imposed) by phone or online. Unpaid fines can stop you leaving New Zealand – use Ministry of Justice’s fine checks form to find out if you have outstanding debt.

Website: www.justice.govt.nz/fines
Phone: 0800 4 FINES (0800 434 637)

Fine checks form: www.justice.govt.nz/fines/find-out-if-you-have-a-fine-or-check-your-balance-online/fines-check-form

Department of Corrections

The Department of Corrections website has helpful information for offenders and their whānau. It provides insight into the procedure before sentencing, while in prison and on parole.

Website: www.corrections.govt.nz

Restorative Practices Aotearoa

Restorative Practices Aotearoa provides information on when restorative justice may be appropriate, and where in New Zealand it is available.

Website: www.restorativejusticeaotearoa.org.nz
Email: admin@rpa.org.nz
Phone: 0800 RJA INC (0800 752 462)

Information for victims

Victims Information

Victims Information provides help to victims of crime, their whānau or friends to deal with the practical and emotional effects of a crime. It also provides information to help victims understand the legal and court process.

Website: www.victimsinfo.govt.nz
Phone: 0800 650 654

Manaaki Tāngata – Victim Support

Victim Support provides a free, nationwide support service for people affected by crime, trauma, and suicide in New Zealand. They help clients to find safety, healing, and justice after crime and other traumatic events.

Website: www.victimsupport.org.nz
Phone: 0800 VICTIM (0800 842 846)

Victim notifications register

Victim notification gives victims of serious crime, who are registered on the victim notification register, a way to stay informed about the person who offended against them.

Website: www.corrections.govt.nz/information_for_victims/victim_notification_register

Also available as a book

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