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UN Committee finds against Australia

Posted: 24th June 2016

DeafHear.ie UN Committee finds against Australia in Gemma Beasley Case.

Gemma Beasley

 

The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has held that Australia is in breach of the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) because of its refusal to allow Deaf persons to serve on juries.

A Deaf Australian lady, Gemma Beasley, was summoned for jury duty in New South Wales in October 2012. After she was selected for jury duty, she informed the court authorities that she would need a sign language interpreter in court.

She was told this could not be provided, and she challenged this decision on the basis that it was discrimination against her on the grounds of her disability.

Ultimately she had to take her case to the UN before she got a positive decision. At the UN the New South Wales lawyers argued that having an interpreter in the jury room would be in breach of the Common Law principle of jury confidentiality.

As previously reported on this website, another Deaf Australian lady, Gaye Prudence Lyons, took a case against the State of Queensland because the courts there also refused to allow her to serve on a jury. When Ms Lyons told the court she required a sign language interpreter in court and in the jury room, the court clerk deemed her ineligible to serve.

Ms Lyons has been given leave to appeal the decision to the Queensland High Court, and the decision of the UN Committee may well have a bearing on that outcome, even though Australia have not ratified the UNCRPD.

DeafHear.ie UN Committee finds against Australia 2016

Ireland

In 2010 a Midlands Circuit Court judge asked a Deaf person to leave the jury box because he could not serve without an interpreter, while shortly afterwards a High Court judge ruled that a Deaf man could serve on a jury. At the time Counsel for the DPP expressed concern about the confidentiality of jury discussions (because there would be an extra person in the room, i.e. the interpreter), but the judge ruled that objections to having a ‘13th person in the jury room’ could be met by the interpreter taking an oath of confidentiality.

In this case the Deaf man was excluded from the jury under a rule which allows both the defence and the prosecution to exclude up to seven jurors without giving any reason. But the case was important because an Irish court had decided in principle that a Deaf person could serve on the jury with the assistance of a sign language interpreter.

In the meantime there has been no known instance where a Deaf person has been summoned for jury duty in Ireland. The UN Committee decision should help ensure that the practice of excluding Deaf people from serving on juries will not continue, as well as the commitment of the Irish Government to ratify the UNCRPD before the end of 2016.

Dignity and Respect

At the heart of this issue are the principles of equal citizenship and participation in society. In the past Deaf people were not equal before the law. We can trace discrimination against Deaf people back to the time of Aristotle. He believed that people could only learn through spoken language, and so it was believed that Deaf people were unable to be educated. In fact formal education for Deaf people only arrived in the middle of the 18th century. This history contributed to laws that disempowered Deaf people, including laws that prevented them from owning property or having the right to vote.

Thankfully much of this discrimination has been eradicated in modern times. However, the right and indeed civic duty to serve as a juror is still denied to Deaf people in many countries. In fact to date only the US and New Zealand have allowed Deaf people to serve on juries.

The recent UN decision and the Irish Government’s commitment to ratify the UNCRPD later this year gives hope that it won’t be long before a Deaf person can perform the civic responsibility of acting as a juror in our judicial system.

 

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Related to this story…

Disappointing Decision for Deaf Woman in Australia.
Posted: January 2014

Last year we reported on an Australian case where a Deaf woman had taken an action against the State Government over being excluded from jury service. [Read On]

DeafHear.ie Disappointing Decision for Deaf Woman in Australia.

Courts continue to embarrass deaf people.
Posted: November 2011

DeafHearFollowing on last month´s High Court ruling by Justice Daniel O´Keefe regarding deaf people. [Read On]

DeafHear.ie Courts continue to embarrass deaf people.

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