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This page explains some commonly-used legal terms.


Appeal: A challenge to a decision of a lower authority that is brought before a higher authority. For example, a High Court decision might be appealed to the Court of Appeal.

Appellant: Someone who appeals a decision.

Applicant: Someone who makes an application.


Bankrupt: A ‘natural person’ (rather than a corporation) who has been found to be insolvent by failing to pay a debt and ‘adjudicated bankrupt’.

Bankruptcy: An insolvency process where the Official Assignee (a government agent) takes control of a bankrupt person’s property with a view to repaying that person’s creditors. There are some restrictions on what someone can do while bankrupt.


Civil proceeding: A case run through a court or tribunal that does not involve criminal prosecution.

Court of Appeal: A court with jurisdiction to hear appeals from courts including the High Court.


Defendant: A person a court case is against.

Discovery: A process of identifying and disclosing documents that relate to a court case.

Disputes Tribunal: a tribunal with jurisdiction to hear disputes involving claims of up to $15,000, or $20,000 where the parties agree to extend jurisdiction.

District Court: A court with jurisdiction to deal with certain claims of up to $200,000.


Employment Court: A court with jurisdiction to deal with issues to do with employment and challenges to determinations of the Employment Relations Authority.

Employment Relations Authority: An authority with jurisdiction to deal with issues to do with employment.

Evidence: Something that may prove a fact.


Fixture: A scheduled court date such as a hearing or trial.


Gazette: A regular government publication reporting official matters such as statutory regulations, proclamations, orders in council and public notices.


Hearing: A fixture to argue issues.

High Court: A New Zealand court of unlimited jurisdiction.


Inspection: Reviewing documents that have been ‘discovered’ in the course of a court case.


Jurisdiction: The authority of a court or tribunal to deal with a case.



Liquidation: An insolvency process where a ‘liquidator’ is appointed to take control of a corporation with a view to repaying that corporation’s creditors.


Motor Vehicle Disputes Tribunal: A tribunal with jurisdiction to deal with disputes involving motor vehicles and claims of up to $100,000.


Natural justice: A concept incorporating certain minimum standards of a fair hearing. These include an unbiased decision maker who makes a decision on the merits of a case, an opportunity to put the case forward and respond to opposing argument.

Natural persons: Human people rather than corporations (which can be regarded as ‘artificial’ or ‘legal’ persons).

Negligence: In a civil context, the breach of a duty of care that causes a reasonably foreseeable loss.


Oath: A promise to tell the truth.

Obiter dictum: A Latin phrase that means “a remark in passing”. Remarks made in a judgment that do not affect the decision in that judgment are ‘obiter dicta’.

Open Court: A court is ‘open’ where the general public may enter it and watch what goes on.


Plaintiff: The person who begins a court case.

Pleading: A written statement of position about a case such as a statement of claim, statement of defence and statement in reply.

Proceeding: A court case.



Ratio decidendi: A Latin phrase that means “reason for deciding”. The ‘ratio decidendi’ in a judgment is the reason why the judgment is what it is, or the ‘rule in the case’.

Respondent: The person who responds to an application or appeal.


Statement of Claim: A document used to commence a court case. A statement of claim may be filed and served together with a notice of proceeding in the District and High Courts.

Supreme Court: The court of final appeal in New Zealand.


Tenancy Tribunal: A tribunal with jurisdiction to deal with issues to do with residential tenancies.


Unliquidated damages: Losses that cannot be precisely calculated or figured out by reference to other information. Damage to reputation caused by defamation is an example.


Vexatious proceeding: A case filed purely to annoy or oppress.


Without prejudice: A statement that is not to be taken to affect the legal position of the person making it. Statements made without prejudice may be privileged.

Witness: Someone who gives evidence.