1.6.1 What is case law?

By way of broad summary, case law, otherwise known as the ‘common law’, is the written application of the statute that has been established through decisions made by judges in previous cases in particular factual scenarios. It is built up from judgments given by higher courts when they interpret and apply statutes in the cases brought before them. Sometimes called ‘precedents’, cases are binding on all courts (in lower jurisdictions), and must be followed as good law in similar cases to help achieve correctness and consistency. Over time, these precedents are recognised, affirmed and enforced by the subsequent court decisions, thus continually refining and developing the common law. Or, the common law might change as society’s expectations change or as allied statutes change. You therefore need to be careful that cases you rely on have not been surpassed, negatively commented on, or overturned on appeal.

Case law differs from the laws enacted by Parliament, which include:

  • statutes – statutes enacted by Parliament eg, the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012 (the Act)
  • regulations – regulations established by government agencies based on statutes eg, the Sale and Supply of Alcohol (Fees) Regulations 2013. Regulations will generally be derived from, and subordinate to, the relevant statute.

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The information contained in this online guide is intended as a general guide.
While reasonable measures have been taken to ensure that the information is current and accurate as at October 2019, the Health Promotion Agency cannot accept any liability for any inaccuracy, omission or deficiency in relation to the information. It is not legal advice and you should not rely on anything contained in this guide in any legal proceedings. The information provided does not replace or alter the laws of New Zealand, and you should consult the legislation and obtain your own legal and professional advice, as appropriate. The Health Promotion Agency will not accept liability for any action taken in reliance on anything contained in this online guide.