Thursday, December 12, 2013

An open and shut case

There's an interesting court case on te reo language rights happening today:

A Waitangi Tribunal claimant is taking the tribunal to court for stopping her lawyer asking questions in te reo of English-speaking witnesses.

The lawyer for Te Rohe Potae claimant Liane Green said it was an irony that a judge in what was probably the only judicial forum in New Zealand where te reo was regularly spoken should have ruled that lawyer Alex Hope could not use te reo Maori to cross-examine English-speaking witnesses.

Lawyer Karen Feint told Justice Alan MacKenzie in the High Court in Wellington today that the ruling Judge David Ambler made at a hearing in Te Kuiti a year ago and backed up in a written judgment in February had undermined the mana of te reo and demeaned it as a language, giving it a lower status than English. Judge Ambler's ruling had been wrong, she said.

This is an open and shut case. Section 4 of the Māori Language Act 1987 gives an absolute right to use te reo in legal proceedings, regardless of ability to speak English, and regardless of convenience. This right explicitly includes the Waitangi Tribunal. While the presiding officer can require notification so they can arrange translators, they explicitly cannot deny anyone the right to speak due to a failure to notify. Judge Ambler's decision appears to be contrary to all of this, and I am looking forward to it being overturned.