What are the legal requirements for providing interpreters?

NZSL has the same official status as English and Te Reo Māori. The NZSL Act 2006 specifies principles to guide government agencies in relation to Deaf people and NZSL.

NZSL Act 2006

UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Department policy on NZSL interpreters

Deaf users of NZSL are legally entitled to be provided with an interpreter in certain settings. This is similar to people who speak a language other than English. The following legislation applies to the provision of interpreters:

Government agencies need to ensure services and information provided to the public are accessible to Deaf people, on an equal basis with others. This responsibility is stated in the NZSL Act 2006, which has principles to guide government agencies in their interaction with Deaf people (Section 9). It is also stated in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Article 21).

New Zealand Sign Language Act 2006

The New Zealand Sign Language Act 2006 recognises NZSL as an official language of New Zealand, alongside English and Te Reo Māori.

The Act provides Deaf people with the right to use NZSL in legal proceedings. A qualified, competent NZSL interpreter needs to be provided if a Deaf person has said they want to use NZSL in a court or tribunal.

The Act also states principles to guide government departments in the promotion and use of NZSL. In particular, the Act states in section 9 (1)(c) that “government services and information should be made accessible to the Deaf community through the use of appropriate means (including the use of NZSL)”.

Unless the government staff member meeting with a Deaf person is highly fluent in NZSL, then NZSL interpreters will be needed to ensure effective communication happens.

Read the NZSL Act 2006: http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/2006/0018/latest/whole.html

United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities requires States to ensure Deaf people can access government information and services, allow the use of NZSL, and ensure the provision of sign language interpreters. This is principally stated in Article 21 – Freedom of expression and opinion, and access to information .

New Zealand ratified the Convention in September 2008, and the government is obliged to implement its obligations. The Convention has the status of international law, and can be referred to by courts in decision making. All new legislation and policy should be consistent with it. New Zealand is also required to report to the United Nations every four years on progress with implementing the Convention.

Read the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: https://www.un.org/development/desa/disabilities/convention-on-the-rights-of-persons-with-disabilities/convention-on-the-rights-of-persons-with-disabilities-2.html

Further information on its implementation in New Zealand: https://www.odi.govt.nz/united-nations-convention-on-the-rights-of-persons-with-disabilities/

Department policy on NZSL interpreters

It is useful for departments to have an agreed policy on using NZSL interpreters. The NZSL Act 2006 urges government departments and agencies to increase the accessibility of their services to Deaf people through the use of NZSL.

Development and implementation of a NZSL interpreting policy can be useful for a department, so that there is consistent awareness of a Deaf person’s right to have a NZSL interpreter during meetings (whether staff or the public) throughout all levels of the organisation. It should also make clear responsibility for booking and paying for the interpreters.

Budgeting (including a budget for interpreting services) will be a crucial part of departmental policies around NZSL interpreting.

Departments are expected to cover any costs from their baseline budgets as part of their general responsibilities to ensure the public can access and use their service. NZSL interpreters should not be viewed as special add ons.

We suggest that you first check whether your department or agency has NZSL and/or interpreting policies in place. There may be a general interpreters and translators’ policy, for example, that may be adapted to incorporate the specific needs of NZSL interpreting.

Next section: When do I need to book a NZSL interpreter?

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A guide to working with NZSL interpreters

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