Guilty or not guilty? An investigation of deaf jurors' access to court proceedings via sign language interpreting

Jemina Napier, David Spencer

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

    21 Citations (Scopus)


    The participation in juries by representatives of the community is a fundamental element of the administration of justice, and thus serves the interests of the State. Jury service, like voting, is a right and obligation of citizenship [of Australia]. (New South Wales Law Reform Commission, 2004, p. 2) The institution of trial by jury, although not without critics, has been regarded for centuries as a fundamental part of the administration of justice. Its features are credited with helping to secure the protection of the community from the tyranny of absolutism and the self-interest of the powerful, while reflecting democratic ideals and representing current social values and attitudes . . . The jury is thus a group of "ordinary" people, disinterested in the outcome of the trial, and independent of powerful and influential social forces. (NSWLRC, 2004, p. 13) In most English-speaking countries, including Australia and the United Kingdom, non-English speakers are not allowed to serve as jurors as they cannot access the language of the court. So what about deaf people? Some may be competent English users, but not able to access the language of the court due to not being able to hear it. But they could access all other written information in the form of evidence, testimonies, written confessions, and so forth. Currently, deaf persons cannot serve as jurors in Australia or in most other countries in the world. Debates over whether deaf people should be permitted to serve as jurors have long featured in legal journals (Golbas, 1981; Silas, 1993). Current policy in the majority of countries states that deaf people are not capable of serving as jurors, due to their "incapacity" or disability, that is, their hearing loss. The United States has led the way with respect to law reform on this issue, with many states now allowing deaf people to serve as jurors, and with provisions for interpreters for deaf jurors (Ellman, 1992; LSS, 2000). Deaf people cannot serve as jurors in British or Irish Criminal Courts due to legal issues with having a 13th person (i.e., an interpreter) in the jury room (Deaf Blawg, 2006; Enright, 1999); however, a deaf woman has served as a juror in a British Coroner's Court (Barber, 2005). With the introduction of the New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) Bill before parliament in 2005 to have NZSL recognized as an official language and for use in legal proceedings,1 a deaf man residing in New Zealand was permitted to serve as a juror for the first time in a tax fraud case ("Deaf Man," 2005). In an interview with the New Zealand National Equal Opportunities Network, David McKee stated that he had been "quite excited about the jury duty because [he] knew [he]'d be breaking down barriers and opening doors for other Deaf people who in the future wanted to participate" (NEON, 2006). He also acknowledged that the judge might have been open to having him on the jury, and interpreters in the court and jury room, because of the NZSL Bill (Travaglia, 2005).

    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationInterpreting in Legal Settings
    EditorsDebra Russell, Sandra Hale
    Place of PublicationWashington, DC
    PublisherGallaudet University Press
    Number of pages51
    ISBN (Print)9781563683961
    Publication statusPublished - 2008

    Publication series

    NameStudies in interpretation
    PublisherGallaudet University Press
    ISSN (Print)1545-7613


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