Chief Justice of New Zealand
Kaiwhakawā Tumuaki o Aotearoa (Māori)
Dame Helen Winkelmann
since 14 March 2019
StyleThe Right Honourable
NominatorPrime Minister of New Zealand
AppointerGovernor-General of New Zealand
Term lengthNo set term, though retirement is mandatory at age 70
Formation5 February 1841
First holderSir William Martin

The chief justice of New Zealand (Māori: Te Kaiwhakawā Tumuaki o Aotearoa) is the head of the New Zealand judiciary, and presides over the Supreme Court of New Zealand. The chief justice of New Zealand is also the chief justice of Tokelau.[2][3] Before the establishment of the Supreme Court in 2004, the chief justice was the presiding judge in the High Court of New Zealand, and was also ex officio a member of the Court of Appeal of New Zealand. The office is established by the Senior Courts Act 2016, which describes the chief justice as "senior to all other judges".[4]

The chief justice is first among equals among the Judges of the Supreme Court. They also act in place of the governor-general if one has not been appointed or if the appointee is unable to perform their duties. When acting in place of the governor-general, the chief justice is known as the "administrator of the Government".[5]

The chief justice is appointed by the governor-general, on the formal advice of the prime minister.[6] The current chief justice is the Rt Hon Dame Helen Winkelmann, who was appointed on 14 March 2019 to replace the Rt Hon Dame Sian Elias, who had reached mandatory retirement at age 70.[7]


From 1841 to 1957, the chief justice was the indisputable senior member of the New Zealand judiciary, and served on the old Supreme Court (now called the High Court of New Zealand). Prior to 1957, all judges of the Supreme Court sat as members of the Court of Appeal. In 1957, a permanent Court of Appeal was established which was headed by a President responsible for the running of that court. The role of the chief justice became akin to that of the current chief High Court judge, responsible for the operation of the High Court (comprising the largest part of the senior judiciary) but not having control over the senior New Zealand–based appellate court (being the Court of Appeal).

This changed in 2004 with the abolition of the right of appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and its replacement by the Supreme Court of New Zealand as the court of last resort for New Zealand. When the new Supreme Court was established, the chief justice became head of that court.

List of chief justices

No. Image Chief Justice Assumed office Left office
1 Hon. Sir William Martin 5 February 1841 12 June 1857
2 Hon. Sir George Arney c. 1858 1875
3 Hon. Sir James Prendergast GCMG 1 April 1875 25 May 1899
4 Rt Hon. Sir Robert Stout GCMG 25 May 1899 31 January 1926
5 Hon. Sir Charles Skerrett KCMG KC 1 February 1926 13 February 1929
6 Rt Hon. Sir Michael Myers GCMG KC 3 May 1929 7 August 1946
7 Rt Hon. Sir Humphrey O'Leary KCMG KC 12 August 1946 16 October 1953
8 Rt Hon. Sir Harold Barrowclough KCMG CB DSO MC ED 17 November 1953 17 January 1966
9 Rt Hon. Sir Richard Wild GBE KCMG QC 18 January 1966 January 1978
10 Rt Hon. Sir Ronald Davison GBE CMG QC 3 February 1978 4 February 1989
11 Rt Hon. Sir Thomas Eichelbaum GBE QC 6 February 1989 16 May 1999
12 Rt Hon. Dame Sian Elias GNZM PC QC 17 May 1999 13 March 2019
Rt Hon. Dame Helen Winkelmann GNZM 14 March 2019 present


  1. ^
  2. ^ "Tokelau Judicial Annual Report 2012 - 2013". Archived from the original on 28 July 2018. Retrieved 3 March 2018.
  3. ^ "Meeting the Chief Justice of Tokelau". Retrieved 3 March 2018.
  4. ^ "Senior Courts Act 2016 No 48 s18(1)". Parliamentary Counsel Office. 1 July 2019. Retrieved 18 September 2019.
  5. ^ "Role of the Chief Justice". Courts of New Zealand. Retrieved 3 December 2017.
  6. ^ "Appointing Judges: A Judicial Appointments Commission or New Zealand?". Ministry of Justice. September 2002. Archived from the original on 16 October 2008. Retrieved 12 June 2008.
  7. ^ Cheng, Derek (17 December 2018). "New Chief Justice named as Justice Helen Winkelmann". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 18 September 2019.