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In Wellington we hold court records from the late 19th century until about 10 years before the present day. Please note information changes over time and is subject to continuous updating and amendment. We receive transfers from government agencies intermittently. Please contact us for further information.

This research guide lists Wellington holdings for the upper South and lower North Islands. It covers records not included in the Identity, Employmentand Welfareresearch guides and updates the Wellington information in Gavel and Quill 1997. Similar court records can be found in our three regional archives but these are not included here.

The listings in this guide are organised by place, cover civil and criminal cases heard before the Courts: a Magistrate’s Court, Court of Appeal, District or High Court. There may be cross-over between courts as cases originate in one and are concluded in another. Agency code searches in Collections search give more information about the actual courts.

Note: Puke Ariki in New Plymouth holds a considerable number of New Plymouth Court records.


Some civil records are open, but most are restricted for 60 years. R denotes a restricted record; R60; R100 indicates the restriction period.

All criminal records under 100 years old are restricted. Some records may also be sealed or restricted for longer periods by a court order. All requests for permission to access restricted records should provide information about the reason for the research. The more information provided, the easier it is to consider the request.

Details about restrictions and who to contact for access permission are found in individual entries on Collections search. Access enquiries may need to be directed to the individual court registrar, the Ministry of Justice or the Department of Corrections.

Civil cases and plaints

Actions or civil proceedings involved legal action brought under civil statute (as opposed to criminal statute) usually by one citizen (plaintiff) against another citizen (defendant) for financial or other reasons.

Plaint Registers list civil cases, and files may also exist. File numbers are found in the registers which contain particulars of plaintiff, defendant, and the progress of the case. In a very few cases plaints are listed by surname on Collections search.

Records are open access, except where civil records are included with restricted criminal/adoption records. Civil record books marked as restricted will need to be checked by our staff on a case-by-case basis to ensure they include no criminal/adoption records. The records below are open unless otherwise stated.


Agency is a Wellington court term used for early miscellaneous cases, and for cases referred by other Supreme Courts. Agency covered a wide range, including suits, appeals, chattels registration, land transfers and disputes. Case files are usually held. Most cases were later classified as Miscellaneous.

Miscellaneous was the term used to describe all such cases from other courts. Miscellaneous registers may contain material on companies winding up, aged and infirm persons, matrimonial property applications, changes of name by deed poll, criminal and civil appeals, domestic appeals, applications by solicitors to the bar and anything else that did not fit into other registers. Case files are usually held.

Records are open unless stated. Restrictions relate to criminal cases and adoption records. Restrictions are for 60 years from the last paper on the file, or for 100 years. Adoption records are restricted indefinitely.


We hold a wealth of summary information on criminal cases including: Returns of Prisoners Tried, Court Calendars, Criminal Record Books, Criminal Trial and Sentence Registers, and Crown Books. We also hold many criminal case files, mostly for more serious crimes.

Police Gazettes contain a wealth of useful information on criminal cases and should be used in conjunction with the criminal records described here. If you do not know which court the case was tried in you will need to use the Gazettes. This will enable you to find the correct return of Prisoners Tried to access available court information.

The Police Gazettes are available on Papers Past up until 1945 and we hold open access hard copies up to 1950 [AAZC 5803]. Beyond that, they are restricted.


All Criminal records under 100 years old are restricted. Some records may also be sealed or restricted for longer periods by a court order. All requests for permission to access restricted records should provide information about the reason for the research. The more information provided, the easier it is to consider the request. Requests for permission to access restricted criminal records should be directed to the court that transferred the records. For contact details, please see the Courts of NZ website.

Criminal Record Books

Criminal Record Books are court registers of cases heard and include such details as the name of the prosecutor and defendant, charge, plea, verdict and sentence/date of issue of warrant of imprisonment.

Some cases are accessed by indexes, either separate books or included in the registers themselves. Other volumes have no indexes and have to be searched. They are arranged by date of the case hearing. Some criminal record books are for cases heard in Children’s Courts. These can involve criminal charges against minors or charges brought against parents or guardians on the behalf of the children themselves.

Trial (and Sentence) Registers

Prisoners tried or committed for sentence

Entries in these registers are chronological, with an alphabetical index in the front of each volume. They record the details of criminal trials and/or sentencing. They include the name of the prisoner, crime, place and date of committal, receipt of depositions. Some also include the plea and verdict, result of the hearing, date of the sentence and remarks of the solicitor.


Criminal case files can be located through the variety of registers listed in this guide. Some are also listed on Collections search by the name of the person convicted. Criminal case files (including those listed as an alphabetical sequence in our earlier guide to court records Gavel and Quill) are not listed on Collections search and can only be found with the assistance of an archivist. Special access permission is required before such a search can be undertaken.

Trial (and Sentence) Files

Trial files consist of depositions, witness statements, evidence and the final verdict. They contain subsequent court papers such as correspondence regarding legal aid. Some trial files also contain information from the sentencing. Trial and sentencing information was usually separated into different files from 1940 onwards though there are some exceptions to this rule. Apart from Blenheim files (which are over 100 years old, unrestricted and searchable on Collections search), files are accessed through Criminal Trial and Sentence Registers.

Crown books

These volumes summarise Supreme Court criminal proceedings. Information includes charge, plea, verdict, sentence, and a list of exhibits. Names given are: parties in the case, judge, legal counsel, court officers present, jury members and witnesses heard. Each stage of the hearing is listed, with a time. Volumes are often indexed.

Returns of prisoners tried

These returns include cases tried in both Magistrates’ and Supreme Courts but referred to a Supreme Court for sentencing. Arranged chronologically, the records are sometimes indexed. They give name, age, nationality, and religion (until 1942) of the accused, and include a summary of offences, court dates, verdict and sentence, if applicable, and the file number for the criminal case file which can contain a detailed record of the event.

Court of Appeal

Court of Appeal criminal case files for the whole of New Zealand are accessed through Criminal Case Registers (see below). The files are listed on Collections search by date but not name. Access permission is needed from the Minister of Courts for our staff to search the registers and case files for a researcher.

These are files for criminal cases where an appeal went from the High Court/Supreme Court to the Court of Appeal. Appeals could be based on various grounds.

Court calendars

Court calendars contain similar information to Returns of Prisoners Tried but are Prisons Branch records, included in their general correspondence (mainly from officers in charge of penal institutions to the Inspector of Prisons). Court Calendars are held only in Wellington and relate to prisons all over New Zealand for the period 1921-1937. It is necessary to search for alternative spellings: ‘Court Calendars’ and ‘Court Calenders’ to access all records.

Police files

Police files, which may complement court files, are held for a number of high profile cases, such as murder, as well as lesser cases. Sometimes there was no court case, but the police file covers the investigations made.

These are Police Correspondence files. Some more prominent cases are individually listed on Collections search, found by name (accused and/or victim), by place name or by year. The police officer involved may be listed. However there are many gaps between 1900-1940 because most records were destroyed. The records that exist are listed on Collections search, otherwise researchers need to consult the Registers of Correspondence to see what files used to exist.

Indexes to Police Correspondence 1871-1951 R100 [ACIS 17636 P3 3/3-40/48]

  • Up to 1877 volumes contain entries listed alphabetically

  • From 1877 an annual single number system was used

Registers of Police Correspondence 1869-1951 R100 [ACIS 17633 P2/1-44]

  • 1869-1877 & 1901-1951 inwards and outwards

  • 1877-1901 inwards only

Files – Police Correspondence 1877-1972 R100 [ACIS 17627 P1]

Special branch and NZSIS files