International Journal of Speech Language and the Law, Vol 24, No 2 (2017)

Deaf citizens as jurors in Australian courts: Participating via professional interpreters

Sandra Hale, Mehera San Roque, David Spencer, Jemina Napier


Australian deaf citizens are currently not permitted to perform jury duty, primarily due to their inability to hear the evidence and deliberate without the help of interpreters. Although interpreters are routinely employed to interpret for defendants or witnesses in court, current legal frameworks do not permit interpreters to enter the deliberation room as a ‘thirteenth person’, for fear that they may influence the jurors in their decision-making. Other objections to allowing deaf citizens to act as jurors include uncertainty about their ability to participate fully in the discussions, the impact the deaf juror’s and interpreter’s presence may have on the dynamics of the deliberations and on turn taking, and the logistics and cost involved. Yet, deaf citizens see it as their right to be able to perform this very important civic duty, and recent decisions at the international level indicate that excluding deaf citizens from jury duty should be considered unlawful discrimination. This paper will present results from the analysis of the jury deliberations with one deaf juror and two Auslan interpreters, and from a focus group discussion with the eleven hearing jurors and an interview with the deaf juror about their experience. The jury deliberation is one section of a large-scale study on the participation of deaf jurors in a criminal trial with Auslan interpreters, in New South Wales.

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DOI: 10.1558/ijsll.32896


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