Courts adopt Maori language

Turituri mo tona honore te kaiwhakawa. Taki tu.
Silence for his/her honour the judge. All stand.

wendy gray te reo in courtsThose are the words being heard in courts around the country following the introduction of te reo Māori into New Zealand’s court proceedings.

All opening, adjournment and closing announcements in District, Family and Youth Courts are now made in te reo Māori and English.  Māori is already established in the Māori Land Court, the Waitangi Tribunal, Rangatahi Youth Court and Matariki Court.

The Chief District Court Judge Jan-Marie Doogue has described the move as an historic change.

She said it was a practical way for courts to recognise te reo Māori which will enhance proceedings and show appreciation for the cultural significance of the language in the court environment.

For some court staff such as registrars and attendants, it’s meant stepping out of their comfort zone and learning new skills to make it happen.

Deputy Court Registrar Wendy Gray is one of 14 staff who have been trained up at the Nelson District Court. She says staff have embraced the opportunity.


Good training essential

“It’s not always easy for people to learn a new language but everyone is doing really really well.”

Wendy says good training and on-going support have been key.

“We had really good training from two Māori staff members who taught us the phrases and made us practice them regularly for about two weeks before we did it for real.  They’ve also been very supportive and complimentary about our efforts.

“The first time was a bit daunting but I’m comfortable with it now although I still have my cue cards as my security blanket until I feel confident that I’ve memorised it all,” she says.

Wendy is all in favour of the change. “I think it’s a good step to incorporate Māori into court proceedings and for Māori using the court, it makes it more welcoming.”

She says it has raised her awareness and sparked her interest in te reo in terms of hearing and understanding what words mean.

The Maori Language Commission has welcomed the change and is encouraging other groups to follow the courts’ example.

People appearing before the court are entitled to speak Māori. The court provides translators to interpret what’s been said into English. This is provided for in the Maori Language Act 1987.  

Te reo Māori is one of New Zealand’s three official languages. The other two are English and New Zealand Sign language.


This article is from the September 2012 issue of the PSA Journal. You can read back issues of the Journal by clicking here.