After a programme of research spanning over a 10-year period, The Ministry of Justice yesterday announced that there are no barriers to deaf people serving as jurors when they work with sign language interpreters. Our specialist solicitor Gina Steele has welcomed this new legislation, commenting ‘I think this decision is an important step in achieving equality within the deaf community, but it also contributes to a fairer justice system.’
Included within the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill announced in Parliament on the 9th March 2021, the new law will enable profoundly deaf people to sit on juries. Current laws ban the presence of a ‘stranger’ being in the jury deliberation room. This was previously in order to safeguard against outside influence, but this will now be scrapped to allow a British Sign Language Interpreter into the room. The Minister for Disabled People, Justin Tomlinson, stated that he is; ‘committed to making sure disabled people can participate fully in society and this announcement is a key step forward in achieving that ambition.’ He also promised that ‘our upcoming National Strategy for Disabled People will build on this, looking across government at how we can unlock opportunities to positively impact the lives of disabled people now and in the future.’
Allowing deaf and disabled people better access and support within the legal system is vitally important to achieve both a diverse range of jurors in the courtroom, and also to ensure the autonomy of deaf people in legal decisions. The move will mean that over 80,000 deaf people across England and Wales can now participate fully in jury service. Currently, BSL interpreters are permitted to enter the courtrooms to assist deaf jurors, but they are crucially not allowed into the room where the verdicts are considered. This is a vital change, because this has meant that people with significant hearing impairments have to have the ability to accurately lip read during the deliberation process. Under these new changes, the interpreters will be contractually bound to a confidentiality agreement that stipulates that they have an obligation to remain impartial at all times and not to divulge any discussions that take place in jury rooms.
Annie Roberts, who is the Advocacy Officer at the National Hearing Loss Charity RNID has said that ‘we welcome the planned change in the law allowing deaf people to sit as jurors. Jury service is an obligation we all have as law abiding citizens, deaf people are citizens and therefore it is only right that we should be able to play our part in society equal to everyone else. This is a small step forward for an inclusive society and valuing the contribution of the deaf community to our country.’ Included within the legislation is also a commitment to monitor developments in technology that may provide further assistance to disabled jurors, which is a positive step in continually striving to achieve full representation on a jury panel.
Here at AWH, we continually strive to offer full inclusivity to all our clients no matter what their needs when they are involved in a legal process. Our specialist solicitor Gina Steele holds a BSL Level 6 and strives to always meet every communication need of our deaf clients.
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