The country's "arcane" court system needs urgent modernisation to make them more accessible and intelligible to the public, the Law Commission says.
The commission's recommendations to reform the laws governing courts will be tabled in Parliament today.
The laws determine how the country's trial and appellate courts are structured, their jurisdiction, how judges are appointed to them and the rules and procedures by which justice is administered.
Law Commission president Sir Grant Hammond said the courts were a critical part of New Zealand's constitution and it was vital the laws that governed how they operated were "modern, clear and easily accessible to all".
"Currently this is not the case. The laws are contained in three different statutes, one of which, the Judicature Act, was enacted more than a century ago. Its language is arcane, some of its provisions unclear, and it has been amended more than 40 times. It is in urgent need of modernisation."
The commission has recommended the Judicature Act 1908, the Supreme Court Act 2003 and the District Courts Act 1947 be consolidated into a single, modern, clear, unitary Courts Act.
The commission's review has made a number of recommendations aimed at improving the clarity of the courts legislation and the efficiency, transparency and accountability of the courts.
The Government will consider the recommendations.
The Law Commission's recommendations:
• Greater clarity and transparency around the appointment of judges to the higher courts;
• More robust and well-publicised rules and processes for determining when judges should recuse themselves from a case because of a conflict of interest;
• The publication of an annual report on the judiciary by the Chief Justice;
• The immediate establishment of a pilot specialist panel of judges to deal with complex commercial cases;
• Establishing other specialist panels of judges in the future should this pilot prove successful and the need arise;
• Reviewing the statutory cap on the number of District Courts judges who can be appointed to reduce reliance on acting judges and enable the District Courts to better manage their workload;
• Increasing the District Courts' jurisdiction to $500,000 if this is feasible in terms of judicial and court resources; and
• Recognising the District Courts as one court that sits in multiple locations, rather than as multiple individual courts as is currently the case.