Award for human rights scholarship for deaf juror research

 

I am excited to provide an update on a research project that I have been involved with for the last ten years.

The project has focussed on deaf jurors, and whether deaf people can serve as jury members.

I initiated the project with law academic, David Spencer, and we examined whether deaf people could comprehend the jury instructions from a judge in a courtroom through a sign language interpreter. We were interested in whether deaf people could comprehend the message indirectly through an interpreter, as compared to hearing people who listened directly in English. We found that in comparison, both groups could comprehend equally, and misunderstood the same (small) level of information, which proved that deaf people are not disadvantaged by accessing the information through an interpreter.

In addition, we have also interviewed lawyers and judges who had experience of working with deaf jurors, members of the deaf community, and sign language interpreters, to elicit their opinions as to whether deaf people could carry out jury duties. The majority of the respondents confirmed that they advocate for deaf people to serve as jurors, and in fact it is their human right, as recognised in the United States where deaf people have been serving as jurors in various states since 1979.

Along with researcher Debra Russell, I visited the city of Rochester in the US, to observe the a jury selection (empanelment), and the process of a deaf person participating in that process through an interpreter.

In addition, with a team of researchers funded by the Australian Research Council, including David Spencer, Sandra Hale and Mehera San Roque, we further investigated this topic and conducted a mock trial where we invited actors to re-enact an actual trial that had previously taken place. We observed how a deaf juror participated in the trial with two interpreters in the courtroom and then how all the jurors conferred in private their deliberations on the case before delivering their verdict. We analysed the video recordings we had made of the whole trial. The main obstacle that many countries have presented as a dilemma was the fact that only twelve jury members are permitted in the jury room (or fifteen members according to the country’s law). Bringing in interpreters would exceed that limit and that was not deemed acceptable as it may impeach a trial and compromise the confidentiality of the jury deliberations. Our research showed otherwise – that the presence of the interpreters did not have any impact on the deliberations and there were no negative effects on the trial. Members of the jury who we interviewed confirmed that it was fine having the deaf jury member with his interpreters, and that there was no negative influence. They affirmed that deaf people can participate in jury service.

We have published several articles about our findings, one of which was published in the Australian Human Rights Journal, where we stated that if deaf people are not offered the opportunity to serve as jury members, it would breach of their human rights with respect to their right to participate and contribute to society as an equal, especially in justice.

To our delight, that publication has been selected for the Australian Human Rights Journal inaugural Andrea Durbach Award for Human Rights Scholarship. The publication has been recognised as an important one which advocates for the human rights of deaf people. We are very proud to receive the award.

We have worked together with the British Deaf Association, Deaf Australia and the World Federation of the Deaf to promote the impact of this research. The award includes prize money of $1000 Australia dollars. We have decided to donate the prize money to Deaf Australia’s fundraising website Jury Rights for All, which seeks to raise money to fund the campaign to allow deaf and disabled people to participate as jury members. We hope that the donation will support their work.

Initial translation from International Sign into English by EUMASLI students Tessa Heldens (Netherlands) and Ramon Woolfe (UK)

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