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Deaf community slams rejection of hearing-impaired juror

WHILE everyone has the right to a fair trial, it seems not everyone has the right to serve on a jury, with a Supreme Court ruling last week effectively eliminating deaf people from jury service.

Justice James Douglas rejected a woman for jury duty on the grounds that while she was able to lip-read, she was unable to perform the functions of a juror, as she required the assistance of an interpreter.

The move has outraged Deaf Australia CEO Kyle Miers, a deaf person himself.

"You know we haven't reached any equality yet in the court system," Mr Miers said, with the able assistance of an interpreter.

"We need to have interpreters all the time in a trial (if there is a deaf person on the jury)."

With fears over the process of introducing an interpreter into a courtroom, in terms of swearing in and unbiased translations, Mr Miers argued that was far from a concern.

"They (NAATI-qualified interpreters) have very strict ethics and a code of conduct," he said.

"There's quite a high level of training required before they're able to be in a court-room."

Queensland Law Society president Ian Brown said the decision was fundamentally flawed.

"At the end of the day, discriminating against or preventing people with a physical disability from sitting on a jury simply because they have a physical disability of some sort really goes against the fundamental principles we should hold as a society that we're inclusive for all people," he said.

"What we should be looking at are ways and means of providing technological and other support that would allow a person with a disability, visual or hearing, to participate on a jury.

"It is essentially something that we should and could be doing something more about."

Mr Brown said while there were already measures in place in Brisbane courts to enable physically impaired people to serve the justice system, there were other simple measures that could also be implemented.

"It might include small things like amending legislation to allow a translator to sit in the jury room and to assist the jury person," he said.

SERVICE POSSIBLE: Alan Fort can see no reason why hearing-impaired people cannot serve on juries with hearing instruments.
SERVICE POSSIBLE: Alan Fort can see no reason why hearing-impaired people cannot serve on juries with hearing instruments. LUKA KAUZLARIC

Hearing aids well able to help jurors serve

LOCAL hearing specialist Alan Fort has helped change the lives of many Gladstone residents who are either deaf or hearing impaired.

He believes that while a clinically deaf person may have difficulties with serving on a jury, there was no reason why hearing-impaired citizens could not do their bit for the justice system.

"If they're deaf then you can only use sign language and translate; you'd have to think that would be extremely difficult," he said.

"Clinically I think there's no reason why someone with hearing aids couldn't serve on a jury."

The audiometrist said clarity was one of the main problems that could arise with hearing-impaired and deaf people in jury service.

"Basically it's about clarity," he said. "They might hear people talking about a ship and think it was a wish, but hearing instruments can fix that.

"Lecturers, students in schools, they have a small FM system in their ear and the judge could wear a remote microphone that feeds into the small radio system.

"We've got very prominent people in Gladstone using hearing instruments."

Topics:  deaf, hearing impaired, supreme court




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