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Te Reo Māori i nga Kōti o Aotearoa

28 July 2016 - By James Greenland

Māori language in NZ Courts

An official language of Aotearoa/New Zealand, anyone may speak te reo Māori in court.

However, a party intending to speak Māori should provide advanced notice to the presiding officer of the court, to allow time for arrangement of a competent te reo interpreter.

Te Ture mō Te Reo Māori 2016/the Māori Language Act 2016 provides that te reo Māori is an official language of New Zealand, and that parties to legal proceedings are entitled to speak Māori (regardless of whether they are able to speak English, or any other language) in court.

As noted in s 8 of the Act, the right to kōrero Māori i nga kōti (speak Māori in court) recognises the language as a taonga (treasure) that, as promised by Article 2 of the Treaty of Waitangi/te Tiriti o Waitangi, must be protected and promoted by the Crown.

While s 7(1) of the Act affirms members of the court’s, parties’, witnesses’ and counsels’ right to speak te reo in legal proceedings, it also sets practical limits on and rules around the use of Māori in proceedings.

Section 7(2) states that the right to speak Māori does not entitle an individual to insist on being answered in Māori, for example.

Subsection (3) places responsibility on the court’s presiding officer to ensure a competent interpreter is available.

Court rules governing te reo Māori use

Those wishing to kōrero Māori are directed to comply with the relevant court’s procedural rules.

District Courts

The District Courts Rules’ rule 1.15 subsection (2) states that any person wishing to speak Māori in a proceeding or at the hearing of an interlocutory application must (or if the person is a witness, the party intending to call that witness must) “file and serve on every other party to the proceeding a notice of his or her intention to speak Māori”.

Subsection (3) provides that the notice (which must be in a prescribed form) must state that the person intends to speak Māori at – (a) all conferences and hearings; or (b) all conferences and hearings held after a specified conference or hearing; or (c) a specified conference or hearing.

Notice must be filed “not less than 10 working days” before the first conference or hearing at which the person intends to speak Māori (subsection (5)).

High Court

The High Court Rules, found in Schedule 2 of the Judicature Act 1908, are similar. Rule 1.11(3) differs slightly, in that notice must be given not less than 10 working days before any case management conference and/or hearing at which the person intends to speak Māori.

Notice must be in a different prescribed form, G 12.

Failure to inform court does not defeat right to speak Māori

The court rules (both DCR and HCR) state that failure to give notice does not prevent a person speaking Māori in a proceeding. However, the court may adjourn a conference or hearing to arrange an interpreter if an individual demands to speak Māori without having provided notice.

Rule 1.13 of the HCR, for example, provides that the court may treat failure to provide advance notice as a relevant consideration in an award of costs.

Translation of documents into te reo Māori

A person upon whom a document is served may be entitled to receive a translation of that document into te reo Māori provided certain conditions are met (see rule DCR 1.16 and rule HCR 1.12).

See also “History of te reo Māori in the courts”.

Last updated on the 28th July 2016