Report released today restricting Te Reo Māori in courts

By Harata Brown

The High Court's decision not to allow counsel 'an absolute right to ask questions of the witnesses in Te Reo Māori' has been released. The lawyer, who delivered questions in Te Reo Māori, says that Māori interpreters were present for a Waitangi Tribunal Hearing; however the Judge's decision considered that there is limited hearing time available in the Tribunal

Liane Green's applied to the High Court to review a decision made by the Waitangi Tribunal which directed the applicant's counsel in proceedings before the Tribunal was not entitled to cross-examine two English speaking witnesses in te reo Māori. The applicant submitted that the Tribunal's decision was wrong in law in that it does not comply with the Māori Language Act 1987 (the Act).

Green, the applicant is a descendant of Ngāti Peehi, of Ngāti Te Kanawa. Her lawyer, Alex Hope says the reason as to why he proceeded to deliver questions in Te Reo was to examine 2 historians had presented a report about political issues of the specified region.

a) Mr Hope had been directed to seek leave to cross-examine in te reo Maori

b) neither witnesses spoke te reo Maori and it was not clear that Mr Hope's te reo Maori examination would assist or enhance the Tribunal's understanding of witnesses evidence, and

c) allowing cross-examination in te reo Maori would add a further layer to the process of cross-examination' that would necessarily consume additional hearing time

However, Justice MacKenzie decided not to overrule the tribunal's original decision as tribunal hearings were under strict time constraints

The Maori Language Commision was an intervener in the proceedings hearings,

It's Chairman, Erima Henare said The High Court decision is a big loss for te reo Maori. The decision sets a precedent that may lead to the erosion of the place of te reo Māori in our legal system.

The applicant and counsel are considering appealing the decision of the High Court.