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New Zealand: IALS Library Guides

An introduction to legal research in the jurisdiction of New Zealand

New Zealand

Guide last updated by Laura Griffiths, June 2019

About the author LG

This guide was created by Laura Griffiths, Academic Services Librarian at the IALS Library.

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Introduction: background

New Zealand is a unitary state made up of 2 main islands (where 98.5% of the population live), up to 100 further islands both in the main archipelago and outlying in the open sea, 3 self-governing island political dependencies, and claims on parts of Antarctica. The country is governed by a constitutional monarchy in the "Westminster" style thanks to its long history of association with the United Kingdom. The country has, however, had a unicameral legislature since the 1950s. Local government was reformed in 1989, but the various territorial, regional and district councils have limited authority at national level (Reynolds and Flores Foreign law guide).

The country of New Zealand, first sighted by Abel Tasman in 1648, has had a somewhat turbulent constitutional history. Unlike its larger neighbour Australia, the islands were not claimed in the name of the British Crown, despite numerous British colonists basing themselves there for trading purposes. This placed New Zealand in an ambiguous position, being in Western terms essentially a lawless frontier under no official jurisdiction. The British Government eventually sent a representative in 1840 to establish British sovereignty, by right of cession in the case of the north island, and by right of discovery in the case of the south island ( The treaty which was drawn up - The Treaty of Waitangi - remains one of New Zealand's most important legal documents (more information in following section).

New Zealand's constitutional history then developed in similar style to the other major English speaking colonies, from the granting of responsible government, through Dominion status, to instigation as an independent nation. Whilst the head of state is still King Charles III, he is referred to as "King of New Zealand" in all official documents. A number of UK acts (approximately 70, details of which are available in a schedule to the 1988 Imperial Laws Application Act) remain in force in the country, New Zealand having received the body of English common law in the 1840s. As with many other "Westminster" style of government jurisdictions, New Zealand has an unwritten constitution; however, the Constitution Act 1986 makes explicit the most important statutory constitutional provisions. Those who wish further information would be advised to read Philip Joseph's book on Constitutional and administrative law in New Zealand (2021).

The Treaty of Waitangi

The legal validity of the Treaty, signed in the years following 1840 by over 500, but not all, Maori chiefs, has long been the subject of debate; (prior to this the Maori had been governed by a comprehensive system of customary law on a tribal basis). Whilst the treaty itself has not been ratified as such or enacted in New Zealand statute law, it is generally held that the document was a valid transfer of sovereignty of the Islands to the British Crown, despite certain ambiguities between the Maori and English versions of the document. It was also virtually unique in its guarantees to protect the rights of the Maori to govern their own affairs and retain their land rights, or "Rangatiratanga". In essence it is a "broad statement of principles on which the Maori and the British made a political compact to found a nation state and build a government in New Zealand." ( Largely ignored over the colonial period, the treaty came back to prominence in the last quarter of the 20th Century, with the 1975 Treaty of Waitangi Act establishing the Waitangi Tribunal which has powers to investigate and redress breaches of the Treaty dating right back to 1840. Much subsequent legislation refers to the "Principles of Waitangi", effectively enshrining these in law, and it remains today the most important founding document of the nation.

The Waitangi Tribunal website is an excellent free resource, providing a comprehensive background to both the Treaty and the Tribunal and how they are linked, an explanation of the claims process, and access to the various cases so far adjudicated (both in full and in summary).


IALS library has very good coverage of New Zealand legislation, from all periods of its legal history, and limited coverage of legislation from the self-governing dependencies. The library also has selected coverage of regional legislation from the now obsolete regional governments, most of which is included in the main national run of legislation and held in the closed basement; and even an 1858 Maori translation of the laws of England. Ensuing as it did from the British legal system, the organisation of New Zealand legislation is very similar to that of the UK, with primary and delegated legislation, the delegated legislation (statutory regulations) either bringing into force or amending the primary legislation (statutes or acts). Acts are available either as passed, or as amended.


At GE1.E.1, and also at RES GE1.E.1, IALS library has compilations of amended legislation in force at various dates, the most recent being from 2002 which is on the open shelves. This official publication has since been discontinued in hard copy, making the 2002 compilation the last such. (Updated legislation can now be found on the Government's website - see below). Previous consolidations date from 1885, 1908, 1931 and 1957.

At GE1.E.2, IALS Library has the statutes published up to 2007 year on year and unamended. From 1979 these are available on the open shelves, although the collection runs right back to 1860. Older volumes are kept in the closed basement - please apply to library staff should you wish to see these. There is no set amount of volumes per year, and they include local and private acts in the last volume of each year. For statutes from 2008 onwards, please refer to the Parliamentary Counsel Office website (further information below).

Manually updating the statutes after 2002 must now be done either electronically (see below, Legislation finding tools: print and electronic), or by using the commercially published "Butterworths Annotations to the New Zealand Statutes". This is a loose-leaf publication in several volumes which lists all statutory amendments to public acts in force (IALS library shelfmark GE1.E.5).


New Zealand statutory regulations haven't been published in a consolidated format, apart from a compilation of emergency war legislation. At GE1.E.4, the Institute library has Statutory Regulations published up to 2007, passed year by year, with varying numbers of volumes per year. Volumes from 1981 onwards are on the open shelves, and years 1936 - 1980 in the closed basement. As per statutes, for regulations from 2008 onwards, please refer to the Parliamentary Counsel Office website (further information below).


As well as holding legislation for New Zealand, IALS Library has selected coverage of legislation from New Zealand's self governing political dependencies Niue (GE3) and the Cook Islands (GE4), as well as coverage of Western Samoa (now Samoa) (GE2) which gained independence from New Zealand in 1962. The most extensive holdings relate to the Cook Islands, with a 1994 compilation of the constitution, statutes and subsidiary legislation, as well as acts and ordinances as passed up to 2007. For Niue we have a 2006 compilation of the constitution, statutes and subsidiary legislation, with previous compilations in the basement. For Western Samoa we have a 1978 compilation the statutes, with a legislative list correct as of 1989 for updating purposes, with previous compilations in the basement. There is also some very patchy subsidiary legislation as passed up to 1986.


The Parliamentary Counsel Office website, New Zealand Legislation, provides complete free public access to primary and secondary New Zealand legislation, in both its original and ammended form, from 2008 onwards, incorporating any legislation which was in force on 4th September 2007, and selected coverage of some earlier legislation. Any legislation published on this site from 2008 onwards, be it original or revised, is deemed to have official status, along with the latest version of all principal legislation from 1931 - 2007. Official status is confirmed by the legislation bearing the New Zealand Coat of Arms on its front page. This website allows you to search by title or key word, and also to browse by year or subject. Since the demise of the official legislation compilations, this is by far the easiest way to access up to date NZ legislation

NZLII (New Zealand Legal Information Institute) has acts, as enacted, from 1841 onwards, and an historic compilation of the law in force in 1908. There are also files of repealed acts and regulations, the New Zealand Treaty Series from 1944 onwards, and New Zealand treaties in force.

Although New Zealand legislation is not as well represented as some other Commonwealth jurisdictions on commercial databases, IALS library does subscribe to a couple of useful resources. Lexis+ includes a service called "The Laws of New Zealand": an encyclopaedic work, updated quarterly, which reflects the need to have a New Zealand equivalent to Halsbury's Laws of England. Now completed, and updated quarterly, it provides a reliable statement of the whole of the law of New Zealand - statutory, regulatory and judicial. Full references are given to the relevant legislation, although it is not possible to link to it from the service - it would then need to be retrieved from either the hard copy or one of the databases above. IALS Library also has this service available in paper format on the open shelves.  To access this database, select the international content option on the left of the screen in the legislation tab. This will open a separate tab - ensure that you have selected New Zealand from the list along the middle of the page, and select 'Secondary Material' from the dropdown menu at the top of the page. Lexis+ is available onsite at IALS to our academic members.

Case law

The Courts of New Zealand website has a very clear breakdown of the function and hierarchy of the New Zealand court system. The New Zealand Ministry of Justice website also has useful information about the workings of each level of the judicial system. The Supreme Court of New Zealand is now the final Court of Appeal for the country, as legislation enacted in New Zealand in October 2003 abolished appeals to the UK Privy Council in respect of all cases heard by the Court of Appeal of New Zealand after the end of 2003. As per legislation, the New Zealand judicature is very closely modeled on the UK system, and citations to English cases are admissible in New Zealand legal actions in many circumstances.

As with the UK, we do not ordinarily keep reports of judgments from the lower and criminal courts, unless they have been included in subject specific series. New Zealand being a unitary state means that there are fewer series of reports than for some other Commonwealth countries. Citation formats closely follow the UK model of (year) volume - abbreviation - page number, such as (1976) 2 NZTC 61, which is the 1976 volume (vol 2) of New Zealand Tax Cases, where the case starts on page 61.

The main, and generally accepted most official set of reports is the New Zealand Law Reports, published by the New Zealand Council of Law Reporting which was incorporated by the New Zealand Council of Law Reporting Act 1938. These are held here at IALS library, from their inception in 1883 to the present day, with volumes from 1971 on the open shelves at GE1.G.2 - years prior to this are kept in the closed basement. The series is of general jurisdiction, and includes cases from the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (when still applicable), the Court of Appeal, the High Court, the Supreme Court, the Industrial Court and the Compensation Court. Each volume contains an alphabetical list of cases reported and cases cited, as well as a subject arranged index and digest. Cumulative indexes produced every 8 or 9 years alphabetically index cases reported by both appellant and respondent, cases cited (by appellant only), statutes referred to, words and phrases judicially used, and a detailed subject index to cases.

Some older sets of NZ law reports are kept in the closed basement, but of the major currently active sets we have:

  • New Zealand Law Reports (1883 -)
  • New Zealand Tax Cases (1973 -)
  • New Zealand Administrative Reports (1976 -)
  • District Court Reports (1988 -)

Virtually all New Zealand citations are included in the Cardiff Index to Legal Abbreviations, a link to which can be found from the main screen of the IALS library catalogue.



Probably the best resource for New Zealand case research is Lexis+, which contains in its section for New Zealand 5 series of case reports, including New Zealand Family Law Reports and the New Zealand Resource Management Appeals, neither of which are held at IALS library. All series can be searched across either individually or simultaneously. The only caveat is that not all series have from volume one - check the contents information next to each series for further details. New Zealand cases are accessed by selecting the international content option on the left of the screen in the cases tab. This will open a separate tab - ensure that you have selected New Zealand from the list along the middle of the page, and select cases from the dropdown menu at the top of the page.

As well as subscription databases, there are a number of excellent free web resources available. The New Zealand Legal Information Institute (NZLII) makes available reports from the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court, although the reports from the High Court appear to be selective. As the project is fairly new, the back file is smaller than from the commercially available databases, and the search interface is rather basic. However, it does contain unreported decisions of the higher courts, and also many tribunal decisions which will not be available elsewhere.


An excellent resource, also from the Lexis stable, is the mainly Australian service CaseBase. This very comprehensive case citator and annotator covers not only over 60 Australian report series, but also a number of New Zealand publications. Whilst this is not a full-text service, and as such you will not be able to link directly to a case report, its functionality is second to none. Searching can be performed by party name, key word or catch word, and the results are displayed in an easy to read format, with a large amount of value added material, (parallel citations, a complete list of all cited and citing cases). Both CaseBase and Lexis+ are available onsite to our academic users - access via the A-Z List of Databases.


IALS Library also has the Abridgement of New Zealand Case Law, a hard copy service arranging, classifying and annotating New Zealand case decisions since 1861 in the style of The Digest. This 18 volume work, arranged alphabetically into subject areas, was originally published in 1963 (covering 1861 - 1962) and is kept up to date by regular "permanent supplements". It is an useful tool for researching New Zealand case law by subject. However, as it only notes cases reported in the official New Zealand Law Reports, and our most recent permanent supplement is to 2009, it is slightly limited in its application.


IALS Library has a very good collection of textbooks and commentary on New Zealand, with hundreds of legal texts and treatises relating directly and specifically to the country. These range over various different aspects of the law in New Zealand - a subject search in the library catalogue using "NEW ZEALAND" as one of your terms, and the area of law you are interested in (e.g. TORTS, CENSORSHIP) should let you know our holdings in this area for New Zealand. Please note that some older material may be kept in the basement.

Some more recent IALS acquisitions include:

  •  Breach, L Nevill's Law of Trusts, Wills and Administration (13th ed, LexisNexis NZ 2019).
  • Finn, J Burrows, Finn and Todd on the Law of Contract in New Zealand (6th ed, LexisNexis NZ 2018).
  • France, S Adams on Criminal Law (16th ed, Thomson Reuters NZ 2019).
  • Rudman, R New Zealand Employment Law Guide (2019 ed, CCH NZ 2019).

Journals and journal indexes

IALS Library has good coverage of most of the major New Zealand law journals. The accepted main practitioner work is the New Zealand Law Journal, which IALS has from its inception in 1928, with volumes from 1971 on the open shelves at GE1.J.1 (older volumes being kept in the closed basement). Other major titles include:

  • Maori Law Review (1999- )
  • New Zealand Law Review (1995- )
  • Victoria University of Wellington Law Review (1957- )
  • Otago Law Review ( 1965- )
  • Auckland University Law Review (1967- )
  • New Zealand Universities Law Review (1963- )

Increasingly, much of our material is also available electronically. The international section of Westlaw contains about 5 full text New Zealand journals, including some titles not held here at IALS library (New Zealand Business Law Quarterly, New Zealand Journal of Public and International Law, New Zealand Journal of Taxation Law and Policy). It also has good coverage of business and trade press, including local and national New Zealand newspapers. Hein Online also has over 20 full text New Zealand journals included in its database. The New Zealand Law Journal is available in full on the Lexis database, and some New Zealand titles are indexed on CaseBase (mentioned above)

As New Zealand is a common law country, articles written in and pertaining to it will be indexed in Index to Legal Periodicals, a legal journals index covering hundreds of titles, which is available onsite here at IALS from the A-Z List of Databases.

Dictionaries, directories and bibliographies

The major New Zealand legal dictionary we have is Butterworths New Zealand Law Dictionary by Peter Spiller. This has now run to its seventh edition (published 2011) and is the only New Zealand specific legal dictionary on the open shelves. Previous editions of this are in the basement. Also available is New Zealand Legal Words and Phrases, published by Butterworths, which is an easy-to-use index to words defined in New Zealand legislation, and words interpreted, considered and discussed in reported cases. IALS library also has a dictionary of Maori legal terms - He Papakupu Reo Ture.

Although we do hold some legal directories for New Zealand, we have nothing very recent. Online resources are more likely to be up to date. For a directory of New Zealand lawyers it would probably be best to consult the website of the New Zealand Law Society, which has up to date listings of New Zealand practitioners and can be searched by area or by specialism. The Directory of Decisions, a project of the University of Waikato, is another freely available web directory, which aims to list the Courts, Tribunals, Statutory Authorities, and other such bodies in New Zealand which make legal or quasi-legal decisions and reports. It provides, or links to:

- brief information on their jurisdiction
- governing legislation
- administering bodies
- contact details
- availability of reported (published) and unreported (unpublished) decisions
- information on indexes to the decisions
- library holdings of decisions, indicated using the standard New Zealand Library Symbols

Of our hard copy bibliographies for New Zealand, the most recent is Current Australian & New Zealand legal literature index (1973 - 1993). We also have some compilations from the 80s indexing legal writings in New Zealand up to that point. We also have the complete run of the New Zealand National Bibliography, until 1982 when it was taken over by The National Library of New Zealand and transformed into the useful Publications New Zealand. This service is a record of New Zealand publications listed in the National Bibliography, from books to films to maps, which can be used to get information about published items with a strong New Zealand connection, and see which libraries have these publications.

The Southern Cross Resource Finder is a web-based resource that enables users to discover collections from libraries, archives and museums in the UK and western Europe, which hold resources useful for the study of Australia and/or New Zealand. The Australian & New Zealand Law and History Society maintain an excellent bibliography of legal history materials.

Free web resources

As well as the free web resources mentioned above (NZLII, the Waitangi Tribunal, Courts of New Zealand website, Government legislation etc.), there are a great many more freely available New Zealand legal resources on the web. To ensure the authenticity and quality of the sites, you may wish to access these via a trusted web portal or gateway, such as the Eagle-i Internet Portal for Law (edited by IALS). This portal identifies and evaluates freely available web based legal resources offering primary and secondary materials, and other items of legal interest. There are currently about 40 links on New Zealand.

The New Zealand Law Commission has an excellent website which allows access to all of its published documents (reports, draft legislation, press releases, study papers and annual reports) dating back to 1985. Whilst the website is mainly designed to browse to a known document, there are limited search facilities as well.

The library at the University of Canterbury have produced a convenient interactive subject guide to New Zealand law - this includes guides to searching for legal material, links to useful websites, and lists of helpful books and articles for research topics. The University of Otago have created their very own Guide to New Zealand and Australian abbreviations, which is also freely available on the web.

Published in its second edition on Globalex in 2014, Margaret Greville's Introduction to New Zealand law and sources of legal information is a wonderfully comprehensive walk through of the structure and arrangement of New Zealand legal information, with resources categorized by a number of different legal subjects.