Can I request that my entire District Court hearing be conducted in te reo Māori?

Question Details: I have read on the Community Law website that “Māori Land Court hearings can be conducted in te reo Māori (the Māori language) and can begin and end with a karakia (prayer)."

I am wondering if I can get my entire District Court hearing conducted in te reo. I understand that I can speak in te reo and have my words translated, but I would like the whole hearing to be in te reo.

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Community Law Wellington & Hutt Valley

You can speak te reo, you can seek a lawyer who can speak te reo, and you can have other people's words interpreted into te reo, but you do not have the right to be guaranteed that te reo Māori will be the only language anyone speaks in the hearing.

The Māori Language Act states your right to speak te reo Māori in any court proceedings if you are a party, a witness or a lawyer.

You could also look for a lawyer who speaks te reo, they could represent you in te reo in the District Court (including questioning witnesses and addressing the judge or jury). Similarly, if you are self-represented you could address the court (including the judge or jury, witnesses and the other side) in te reo.

If you choose to speak te reo in court, an interpreter must be provided.

The Māori Language Act says that in ordinary court proceedings such as in the District Court you do not have the right to insist on being addressed or answered in te reo. This means that the other side's lawyer, or the judge, cannot be compelled to speak te reo. However, the courts have said that the right to "speak" te reo includes the right to have questions put to you in te reo. Accordingly the court can direct that if you give evidence and you are cross-examined by the other side's lawyer, the questions are translated into te reo before you answer them.

As you mention in your question, special rules apply for the Māori Land Court, where the judge can make any ruling he or she likes on the use of te reo Māori in court hearings.

Before you or your lawyer speak te reo in court, the District Court Rules require you to file with the court and serve on all other parties a notice indicating your intention to speak te reo and stating when you will do so. This notice must be served 15 days before the court date at which you intend to speak in te reo Māori. There is a special form in the District Court Rules. If you do not give the appropriate notice, you will not be stopped from speaking te reo Māori in court - but it might mean that the court case is delayed until an appropriate interpreter is found. You might be ordered to pay costs (that is, a penalty) because of the delay.

We assume that your question is about the right to prefer te reo Māori, not about an inability to understand English. However, it might be good to know that people who are unable to follow court proceedings in English have a right to a free interpreter so that they have a fair trial if they are charged with a criminal offence. They are also entitled to get a translation of any documents served on them in the criminal court proceedings.

Answered 19 Jun 2012. The IMPORTANT NOTICE below is part of this answer.

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