The judicial branch of New Jersey is one of independent and coequal divisions of state authority along with the legislative and executive branches. Courts and judicial administration including the offices of the county clerks are the visible components of the state judicial hierarchy. Annually, almost 7 million legal matters are filed with the courts of NJ; these include a gamut of issues and litigations; everything from homicides and other such heinous crimes to contracts, domestic disputes, accidents, taxes, adoption, divorces and more.
Because the decisions made by the courts in the state have a significant impact on the lives of the citizens, it is imperative to understand how the judicial network works. So, here is a look at the functions of the judicial machinery, its work and how it serves the residents of the state.
The core principles on which the judicial system is based and works
In order to achieve justice, the judiciary has to be open, independent and impartial. Independence refers the ability of the judges to make decisions that are fair and correct without heeding to pressure of any kind even when their decision is unpopular. To ascertain that justice is delivered, courts need to be fair and impartial to all parties involved in a dispute.
This is done by ensuring that equal and similar treatment is meted out to all regardless of their race, gender, age and socioeconomic status. The proceedings of the court are kept open to the public, so that everybody gets a chance to witness the working of the judicial mechanism, supports it and develops respect for it.
The different tribunals that make up the judicial network of New Jersey
The superior court: A tribunal with general jurisdiction that can hear civil, criminal and family matters, superior courts are often referred to as trial tribunals. Every county in NJ has one superior court hence there are 21 trial courts in the state. These are served by approximately 360 judges.
Tax courts: As their name suggests, these tribunals exercise authority in disputes pertaining to taxation. The tribunal reviews the decision of the county board for taxation which is in charge of fixing property taxes. Apart from this, the court also has the powers to hear matters pertaining to income tax, business and sales tax. The Tax court is served by 12 judges.
Municipal courts: These tribunals receive the bulk of the cases that enter the judicial system of the state and the largest variety of matters. Of the 7 million cases filed in NJ every year, almost 6 million are heard by the municipal courts. Generally, these courts receive matters pertaining to civic, traffic and municipal ordinance violations such as motor vehicle offenses, drunk driving, speeding, trespassing, shoplifting, thefts and disputes involving neighbors, hunting and fishing laws, etc. New Jersey has over 530 municipal courts and these operate in the geographical jurisdiction of towns, boroughs and cities.
Appellate divisions of the superior court: These are intermediate level appellate courts that hear matters which are taken forward from trial and tax courts. These tribunals review the decision of the lower courts to ensure that the law of the land was followed. In doing so, the appellate courts interpret state laws, statutes and the legislature. It should be understood here that the court of appeals seldom hears a case from scratch.
In fact, this tribunal only reviews the evidence and the court proceedings as is without retrying the matter. Appellate courts ensure that the tribunals in the state operate fairly. Cases are reviewed by panels of 2 or 3 judges and there are no juries or witnesses; no new evidence is considered at the appeal. The intermediate appellate court is served by 36 judges.
The Supreme Court of New Jersey: The decisions of the appellate court can further be reviewed by the Supreme Court. This is the highest judicial authority in the state and like the court of appeals it often interprets state laws and rules to clear any conflicts that may arise due to other statutes. In the Supreme Court, cases are heard by 6 judges and one Chief Justice. As with the proceedings of the appellate court, no new evidence is permissible at this point.