At the moment, profoundly deaf people rarely sit as jurors. There are strict laws in place that prevent anyone other than the twelve jurors from entering the deliberation room. This means that a sign language interpreter cannot enter the room although they can be present in the court room. A deaf juror has to be able to lip read to be able participate effectively or will otherwise be found to be ineligible to sit as a juror. The reason for this is to prevent any outside influence in the jury’s deliberations. The government has, however, announced that they want to ensure the justice system is open to everyone and intend to remove this barrier for deaf jurors which will affect approximately 80,000 deaf people. The move is part of the Police, Crimes, Sentencing and Courts Bill.
Has it been challenged before?
Deaf people have served on juries in other jurisdictions but previous challenges to the law here have been unsuccessful. In 1999, the then Chief Executive of the British Deaf Association raised the issue but the court ruled that an interpreter would amount to an “incurable irregularity”.
Jemina Napier conducted a survey of legal professionals and interpreters in 2013. She found that respondents generally wouldn’t have an issue with deaf jurors so long as there were clear policies and published guidance for interpreters and court staff. She also arranged a mock trial involving deaf jurors in Australia in 2014 to assess whether they could effectively participate with interpreters or whether the involvement of deaf jurors would impede the court proceedings. The research conducted showed that the translations had been good enough to enable the deaf participants to follow what had been said by the judge.
What protections will be put in place?
The interpreters will have to sign a confidentiality agreement confirming that they will remain impartial and will not divulge any discussions that take place in the jury room.
It will be an offence for an interpreter intentionally to interfere in or influence the jury deliberations, with a maximum penalty of 2 years imprisonment. The interpreter would also be subject to the same restrictions as jurors, such as surrendering electronic devices, not researching a case or sharing research with jurors.
How can we help?
Emma Johashen has many years’ experience advising clients and preparing complex criminal cases. For a no-obligation confidential chat to see how we can help you, please call 0121 726 9116 or get in touch with Emma by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.