Overview of the Hawai`i Judicial System
The mission of the Judiciary, as an independent branch of government, is to administer justice in an impartial, efficient and accessible manner in accordance with the law.
Hawai`i’s judicial branch is a unified state court system that functions under one administrative head, the Chief Justice of the Hawaiʻi Supreme Court.
The Hawaiʻi State Judiciary consists of:
- The Supreme Court – The Supreme Court – State’s highest court makes binding decisions over appeals from the lower courts upon discretionary appeal or transfer from the Intermediate Court of Appeals and cases eligible to be heard directly by the Hawaiʻi Supreme Court. Also responsible for court rules, licensing and disciplining attorneys.
- Intermediate Court of Appeals – State’s second highest court that reviews appeals from state trial court or agency decisions. Its decisions, under certain circumstances, are subject to the Hawaiʻi Supreme Court’s review.
- Land Court – Statewide court of record with exclusive jurisdiction of all applications for the registration of title to land and easements or rights in land held and possessed.
- Tax Appeal Court – Statewide court of record with jurisdiction over disputes concerning property, excise, liquor, tobacco, income and insurance taxes, among others.
- Circuit Courts – Rule in all jury trial cases. General jurisdiction in civil and criminal cases. Exclusive jurisdiction in probate [guardianship] and criminal felony cases, as well as civil cases where the contested amount exceeds $40,000. Concurrent jurisdiction with District Courts in civil non-jury cases that specify amounts between $10,000-$40,000.
- Family Courts – Rule in all legal matters involving children, such as delinquency, waiver, status offenses, abuse and neglect, termination of parental rights, adoption, guardianship’s and detention. Also hears traditional domestic-relations cases, including divorce, nonsupport, parentage, uniform child custody jurisdiction cases and miscellaneous custody matters.
- District Courts – Exclusive jurisdiction over traffic infractions and landlord-tenant disputes. Civil actions in which the debt, amount, damages, or value of the property claimed does not exceed $40,000 (but no jurisdiction over actions for libel, slander, defamation of character, malicious prosecution, false imprisonment, breach of promise of marriage, or seduction). Civil cases for specific performance when the fair market value of the performance does not exceed $20,000, criminal offenses punishable by fine or by imprisonment not exceeding one year, county-ordinance cases, and petitions for restraining orders (see more details).
- Environmental Courts – Civil and criminal jurisdiction in matters involving water, forests, streams, beaches, air, and mountains, along with terrestrial and marine life.
- The Office of the Administrative Director of the Courts – Responsible for the daily operations of the court system, the director’s offices include the following departments: Intergovernmental and Community Relations, Policy and Planning, Support Services, and Human Resources.