A Chinese case study shines a light on superdiverse parties in New Zealand courts

Tuesday 3rd December 2019
Article written by: Chelsea Wong


Mai Chen and the Superdiversity Institute have released a ground-breaking report titled: “Culturally, Ethnically and Linguistically Diverse Parties in Courts: a Chinese Case Study”.

The first report of its kind in New Zealand, the seminal study reviewed 2000 New Zealand Court cases where issues and challenges have arisen due to parties or witnesses being Chinese. It comprises interviews with over 30 judges, lawyers, interpreters, academics and experts experienced in working with diverse parties in Courts. This included several Queen’s Counsel and the only two judges of Chinese ethnicity appointed in New Zealand– both now retired after sitting in the District Court.

Alongside the case analyses and a literature review, the tales from the frontline illustrate key issues and challenges faced by the legal profession when facilitating access to justice for culturally, ethnically and linguistically diverse (“CALD”) parties. These include communication difficulties in preparing for and appearing in court, differences in cultural expectations of the court, understanding Chinese cultural behaviours, experiences of discrimination by both clients and their lawyers, and the need for greater cultural capability awareness across the legal profession.

The report’s strong relevance is reflected in the statistics discussed. The 2018 New Zealand Census showed that the People’s Republic of China was the second most common place of birth of New Zealand residents born overseas, after the United Kingdom. Statistics New Zealand has projected that by 2038, Asian peoples will comprise 35% of Auckland’s population. Auckland is now considered more superdiverse than cities such as London and New York. However, it is not alone in dealing with CALD parties. For example, Christchurch High Court is currently dealing with the trial following the Christchurch Mosque Shooting, which is connected to over 50 Muslim families.

Despite the growing numbers of CALD people living in New Zealand, the report’s extensive research and reported anecdotal evidence reveals that the legal system is not well-equipped to deal with the challenges a vibrant multi-cultural society presents. For example, there is currently no uniform system for accreditation or certification of interpreters in New Zealand. This leads to variable and unreliable interpretation in court despite its fundamental function for CALD parties. The report makes 36 recommendations, all of which work towards ensuring “one of the most fundamental principles of New Zealand’s rule of law – that all parties are equal before the law and that equal access to justice should be available to everyone”.

Author Mai Chen says in her preface:  “This research has raised more issues and challenges than I anticipated. This Report gives visibility to them so we are not surprised and can predict and prepare, taking these learnings into account. … I hope the Report will assist the New Zealand court system to become a world leader in successfully ensuring that CALD parties get equal access to justice”.

The report’s findings are applicable to settings beyond the courtroom and will be echoed in many other diverse cultures that are present in New Zealand. The full report can be accessed on the Superdiversity Institute website.

Baldwins’ China Desk provides clients access to our experts with Chinese qualifications, experience and language. Baldwins also has staff members fluent in other Asian and European languages.


Reference: https://www.chenpalmer.com/media-releases/ground-breaking-report-into-superdiverse-parties-in-courts/