New Zealand Court Records
Court records show the names of individuals who are defendants, plaintiffs, jurors, or witnesses in court cases. These records can establish family relationships and places of residence. They often provide occupations, descriptions of individuals, and other family information. They seldom provide birth, marriage, or death information.
Most researchers use court records after they have investigated other records. Court records tend to be difficult to use since few are indexed, handwriting may be hard to read, and they include unfamiliar legal terms. To interpret court records, you may need to consult a legal dictionary.
The sovereignty of New Zealand was proclaimed and its courts established by Ordinance in 1841. Court records that may be useful for genealogical research are those of the Supreme Court 1841-1980 (renamed the High Court in 1980), Police Magistrates Courts 1846-1893, Resident Magistrates’ Courts 1893-1980, District Courts 1980-present, and Wardens’ Courts 1858-present.
The Supreme Court
This court administered cases where the accused elected trial by jury. It also handled bankruptcies, probates, and appeals from lower courts. A date and place of trial are needed to find cases as the records are arranged by the court where a trial was held.
Police Magistrates’, Resident Magistrates’, and District Courts
These courts dealt with pensions, coroner’s inquests, minor cases of petty theft, assault, native convictions, civil cases, and others, except for the most serious crimes such as murder.
Constituted in 1858 to deal with legal matters in the goldfields, these courts handled civil and criminal cases. They also administered regulations regarding the granting, surrendering, exchanging and protecting of mining rights and privileges.
Locating Court Records
Archives New Zealand holds records of:
- Resident Magistrates’ Court
- The individual courts previously mentioned
See the "Archives and Libraries" section of this outline for the address.
For details of court records held at other repositories, see:
Bromell, Anne. Tracing family history in New Zealand. Auckland, New Zealand: Godwit Publishing Ltd., 1996. (Family History Library book 993.1 D27ba.)
The majority of the Family History Library’s collection of New Zealand court records deal with the Maori Land Courts. Call numbers for these and other court records can be found in the Family History Library Catalog, Place Search, under:
NEW ZEALAND - COURT RECORDS
NEW ZEALAND - [TOWN] - COURT RECORDS