Culturally, ethnically and linguistically diverse parties in the Courts: a Chinese case study

The Superdiversity Institute of Law, Policy and Business report, Culturally, ethnically and linguistically diverse parties in the Courts: a Chinese case study, was developed with the support of the Ministry of Justice, the Law Foundation and the Borrin Foundation.

The Report is the first major study that has been conducted into the unique issues and challenges faced by courts, judges, lawyers, prosecutors and interpreters to ensure equal access to justice for culturally, ethnically and linguistically diverse (CALD) parties in the courts, and Chinese litigants and defendants in particular.

Hon Chris Finlayson QC
Attorney-General of New Zealand 2008 to 2017

“In 2007, in my first term in Parliament, I met a young New Zealander of Chinese origin who offered to take me on a tour of Chinese Auckland. We met one Saturday morning and he and I visited many businesses in and around Queen Street and other parts of Central Auckland. It was a fascinating morning and I learned so much about an aspect of New Zealand with which I was unfamiliar even if the street names and some of the buildings were known by me. Twelve years on from my hikoi through Chinese Auckland, things have changed. The Asian population of our largest city continues to grow and make an ever greater contribution to our country and its economy.

We must adapt to changing times. New Zealand is an increasingly multicultural society. The recent Census may have been criticised for its obvious shortcomings but, in one respect at least, it was accurate in telling the story of the changes in the demographic make up of this land since 2013, the year of the previous Census.

So what does this all mean? As the author of this excellent study shows, business as usual in the law will not do. Major, indeed radical change is needed to ensure that all participants in the Justice system understand how the system operates and how each person has an important role to play. It isn’t simply a system which operates for the benefit of judges and the legal profession. It is obviously also there for the individuals, many of whom may not understand fully what is happening and there may also be language barriers. Our system must adapt to meet these challenges. For example, the interpreter will need to play a vital role and we need to ensure there are adequate numbers of well trained interpreters who can assist where necessary.

As I read this excellent work, one question remained unanswered. What are the law schools doing to prepare the next generation of lawyers for practice in this new world? Every law school teaches a subject called Law in Society but is enough attention paid to the legal consequences of demographic change? When Evidence is taught, are students told about the challenges of representing non English speaking New Zealanders? Continuing legal education courses need to be offered to teach older practitioners about the consequences of diversity. That is the responsibility of the NZLS.

Congratulations to the author of this seminal study. This is not a work to be read and shelved but read and implemented throughout the justice system. There is no going back. Major demographic change will not be reversed so we must all adapt to the new world. Not some time in the future but now.”

Hon Professor Margaret Wilson
Former Attorney-General 1999 – 2005

“I consider that this report makes a timely contribution to the issue of access to justice for all individuals. Overall this report is challenging, but it identifies real issues facing individuals in the Chinese community who engage with both the criminal and civil law. The value of this report is that it identifies structural issues that need to be addressed to ensure there is equitable access to justice for members of the Chinese community. For example, the role of interpreters and the need for cultural understanding by all members of the legal community, including judges, lawyers and court officials. The review of the cases identified there was an awareness of the relevance of cultural issues, particularly when sentencing, but it also revealed it is uneven and maybe inconsistent.

Increased resourcing will be required to implement some recommendations, such as those relating to interpreters and cultural awareness training. However, any such costs for the Ministry of Justice and the courts should be assessed against the costs of appeals and miscarriage of justice in some cases. It also seems to be sensible to provide greater understanding and awareness amongst the Chinese community of the requirements of the legal system, in particular the need for documentary evidence of commercial transactions.

I am aware there may be some sensitivity to the report and its recommendations but given the reality of the increasing diversity of New Zealand’s community and the potential for misunderstandings to lead to a sense of alienation and mistrust, it is timely that there is recognition of the need to address the issues raised in this report.”

Meenal Duggal
Deputy Health and Disability Commissioner and Deputy Chair of NZ Asian Lawyers

“When my family immigrated to New Zealand in the late 1980’s, we entered a society in the throes of transition from a monocultural to a bicultural nation.  The memories of the land march lead by Dame Whina Cooper, the Springbok tour and the ground breaking decisions of the Court of Appeal in the New Zealand Maori Council decisions were the material of recent memory.  New Zealand as a society was grappling with its colonial past and seeking to implement the bicultural promise of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.  The intervening three decades have seen rapid and exponential change.  Dominion Road is now almost bending under the weight of Asian eateries, Indian grocery stores, karaoke bars and salons offering the latest in K-beauty trends.  School children who look like me, are more likely to be chased for their lunches, than mocked for them!  These things are some of the most visual representations of the glittering promise of diversity and a multicultural society.  What of its challenges?

This timely report makes an essential contribution to understanding the legal challenges and realities of a superdiverse community.  While the report addresses the justice system, some of the issues identified in it apply equally to public services such as the health and social welfare sectors.  A number of the recommendations made in the report can and should be implemented in the public sector to ensure high quality services for CALD New Zealanders.    For example, the thorough analysis of the issues CALD litigants / witnesses and the justice sector more broadly, face in accessing high quality interpretation services is a case in point.  Similar issues also occur in the health sector and can have a profound impact on patients accessing appropriate care.  Successive governments have been working to break silos in the public sector and provide joined up services.  What works well in the justice sector is also likely to have wider benefits.

It is also important to note that some of the recommendations in the report may have wider application beyond CALD litigants.  As we move away from systems which exist to serve professionals / experts, processes need to be adapted to become more people-centred.  The report is not without challenge but it presents an important opportunity and raises a set of issues which arise in the justice (and wider) aspects of New Zealand life which must be addressed to ensure that we succeed as a superdiverse community and all New Zealanders reap the benefits and rewards of diversity.”

If you wish to download the report please click here:

Click to access Culturally-and-Linguistically-Diverse-Parties-in-the-Courts_A-Chinese-Case-Study.pdf