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New Zealand Law Guide (ARCHIVE): Case Law

The New Zealand court hierarchy is set out in the diagram below. [Click for larger image]

Since 2004, the Supreme Court has been the highest court in New Zealand. Prior to 2004, the highest court was the Privy Council.

The remaining courts of general jurisdiction are (in order of seniority): the Court of Appeal, the High Court, and the District Court. There are also a number of specialist courts (eg the Maori Land Court; the Environment Court) and administrative tribunals.

For more detailed information on each of the courts, their respective jurisdictions and their governing Acts, see the Courts information pages on the Ministry of Justice website. The Courts of New Zealand website includes information on the judicary and how judicial decisions are made, the court system, structure and history, and specific information on each of the courts.

Finding Decisions from Multiple Courts on your Topic

Linxplus (NZ) on Lexis Advance (UniMelb access)

This database provides judgment summaries and full text unreported decisions. The database includes over 100,000 judgment summaries and over 50,000 full text PDF replicas of the original official unreported judgments from 1990 onwards, from the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal and High Court. The database can be searched using a free text search using the 'Search Terms' box or by eg: catchwords / summaries. 

Briefcase/Viewcase on WestlawAU (UniMelb access).

BriefCase is a comprehensive index of more than 180,000 cases, sourced from a variety of New Zealand Courts and Tribunals, together with selected leading foreign cases. BriefCase entries contain case summaries, legislation cited, cases cited and words and phrases judicially considered.

ViewCase provides access to full text PDFs of over 150,000 original judgments. Where a BriefCase entry does not have a ViewCase image attached, it may mean that the case is subject to a suppression order. For cases from 2003 onwards, see the end of the summary for suppression details.

Noting up your Case - Litigation History and Citing Cases

BriefCase - ViewCase on Westlaw AU (UniMelb access) includes CiteCase. Use CiteCase to identify:

  • the Litigation History of your case ie: whether it has been affirmed or reversed on appeal; and
  • cases that have considered your case (Cases Citing). â€‹CiteCase lists and links to all cases citing your case, and how (either negatively, by overruling it, or positively, by following or applying it). CiteCase uses flags and symbols to indicate the status of a case. Click on STATUS SYMBOLS in the User Guides for an explanation of these flags and symbols.

Linxplus (NZ) on Lexis Advance (UniMelb access)

  • This database provides the litigation history of your case, citations to the decision and links to cases cited. 

Finding Cases on Legislative Provisions

Briefcase/Viewcase on WestlawAu (UniMelb access) has a 'Legislation Cited (Title)' box, which will identify cases that consider an entire piece of legislation. To find cases on a specific section of the legislation, add the section/rule/regulation number to the 'Legislation Cited (Provision)' box.

Linxplus (NZ) on Lexis Advance (UniMelb access)

LinxPlus has a 'Legislation Judicially Considered' box on the search screen. Type your legislation title if you want to find all cases on a piece of legislation. To find cases on a specific section, the most effective format is:

<name of legislation> w/p <sec/reg/rule number> eg: fair trading act w/p s9 

Important Note: You do not need to put inverted commas around the legislation title. You do need to add a small s in front of the section number - with no space between the s and the number. If you don't use the s, you will get no results.

Note: The w/p connector finds the terms within the same paragraph - this is recommended to ensure that the section located is in respect of the correct legislation title. If you use the and connector, you may find cases where the section was from another act also cited in the case.

Finding Words and Phrases defined in Cases

Briefcase/Viewcase on WestlawAu (UniMelb staff and student access) has a 'Words & Phrases' box, which will identify cases that define your term.


New Zealand Cases

Authorised Report Series - New Zealand Law Reports

New Zealand has only one authorised report series - the New Zealand Law Reports (NZLR).

Where a case is reported in the NZLR, the NZLR version of the judgment should be cited in preference to other versions.

Included in the NZLR are decisions of the Supreme Court of New Zealand, Court of Appeal and High Court. NZLR started in 1881 but complete sets have been deemed to start in the NZLRat 1861 and include a number of prior series. These are Macassey Reports (1861-1872), New Zealand Court of Appeal Cases (1867-1877), New Zealand Jurist (1873-1875), New Zealand Jurist New Series (1875-1878), Colonial Law Journal (1865-1875), and Ollivier, Bell and Fitzgeralds Reports (1878-1880). From 1932 onwards, Privy Council cases were absorbed into NZLR. For the previous period there is a separate volume of the New Zealand Privy Council Cases (1840 -1932).

The NZLR is available online and in print:

  • Online: full coverage of the NZLR is available on Lexis Advance from vol 1 1881 to current as PDF replicas of the print Reports (available to University of Melbourne staff and students).
  • Print: The NZLR from vol 1 1881 to current is located on Level 4 of the Law Library.

Unauthorised Report Series

The District Court Reports are available on Lexis Advance from 1996 to current. These reports provide a large selection of important cases, civil and criminal, from throughout New Zealand.  Also included in the Reports are selected High Court decisions that are not reported in NZLR.

The New Zealand Family Law Reports (NZFLR) (vol 1, 1982 to current) are available on Lexis Advance. Pdf replicas of the reports are available from 2002. The NZFLR also has a very handy alphabetical subject index. 

The  New Zealand Administrative Reports (NZAR) are available on Lexis Advance from 1991 to current. 1991-1994 decisions provide headnotes only. Full text is available from 1995.

Unreported Decisions - freely available

The New Zealand official Judicial Decisions Online database provides a searchable database of judgments from the following New Zealand Courts:

  • Supreme Court (all)
  • Court of Appeal (cases from 2003)
  • High Court (cases from 2005)

Judgments of particular public interest issued by the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal and High Court are updated regularly and can be accessed via the Courts of New Zealand website. These judgments remain here for 90 days after delivery.

From 2016, the District Courts of New Zealand website publishes a selection of judgments from the civil jurisdiction, criminal jurisdiction, youth court and family court, with an emphasis on significant decisions of particular interest.

NZLII is a freely available collection of databases containing full-text versions of New Zealand decisions. Its coverage includes:

  • Supreme Court cases from 2004-present
  • Court of Appeal cases from 1998-present
  • High Court cases from 2005-present
  • Employment Court cases from 2007-present
  • Environment Court cases from 2006-present
  • Maori Appellate Court cases from 1947-present
  • Maori Land Court cases from 1948-present
  • Coroners Court cases from 2010-present
  • Youth Court cases from 2005-present
  • New Zealand Refugee Status Appeals Authority (NZRSAA) from 1991-2010. These decisions are also on RefWorld, which has more complete holdings. The RSAA ceased to exist on 29 November 2010, when it was replaced by the Immigration and Protection Tribunal. The decisions of the Tribunal are on RefWorld and NZLII. Leading cases from the Tribunal are also in full text on RefNZ (New Zealand Refugee Law), a free site which also contains selected refugee decisions from the New Zealand High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court. 

Searching on NZLII is limited to full-text searching, which can be unwieldy when you are looking for cases in an area of law rather than specific cases.

Citing Unreported Decisions

When citing a case, the media neutral citation should always be given (if available). For guidance on when the various New Zealand courts and tribunals adopted neutral citations see rule 3.3.3(b) of the NZ Style Guide.

Only use official neutral citations provided on the original copy of the judgment. Some websites, such as NZLII, use a numbering system that looks like a neutral citation. Do not use these numbers as they are not universally associated with the judgment and are liable to cause confusion. If no media neutral citation is provided on the copy of the original judgment, it should be cited according to the citation rules of the relevant style guide - for example AGLC3 at 20.1.3:

  • example: DG v  Refugee Status Appeals Authority, CP213-00 (Unreported, High Court of New Zealand, Chisholm J, 5 Jun 2001)

Directory of Decisions

The University of Waikato Library Directory of Decisions complies information about the courts, tribunals, statutory bodies and other bodies in New Zealand which make legal or quasi-legal decisions. The site indicates where the decisions are available in both free and subscription print and online resources.


Case Law Digests

Butterworths Current Law on provides summaries of decisions from NZ courts and tribunals.  

Note that this resource is only up to date in print. The online version is six months behind. 

Books on New Zealand Courts