No moves to allow deaf jurors in future

NO MOVES will be made to change laws excluding deaf people from sitting on juries in Queensland.

Attorney-General Yvette D'Ath said a High Court decision on Wednesday dismissing an appeal from an Ipswich woman to become Australia's first deaf juror had reaffirmed her government's views on the sensitive issue.

Gaye Lyons, who is profoundly deaf, took action after she was excluded from an Ipswich District Court jury in 2012.  

The High Court found there was no law allowing an Auslan interpreter to be present during jury deliberations.  

Both Deaf Services Queensland and Australian Lawyers for Human Rights have called for legislative change to make the jury laws more inclusive.  

Ms D'Ath said understood the strong views people such as Ms Lyons have on this matter but "the confidentiality of jury deliberations and right of an accused person to a fair trial are among the most fundamental tenets of our justice system".

The High Court held that "... a deaf person who requires the services of an interpreter in order to communicate with others is not eligible for jury service in Queensland".  

"The Deputy Registrar's decision not to include (Ms Lyons) in a jury panel did not constitute unlawful discrimination in the performance of her functions or the exercise of her powers under Queensland law," the judgment read.

Ms Lyons had argued there was a choice under the Jury Act to impose a functional test rather than to exclude from jury service all people with some form of impairment, saying the legislation reflects an intention that juries be representative of the community as a whole.

The State of Queensland argued a deaf juror who had the evidence mediated through the services of an Auslan interpreter was not able to give a true verdict based upon his or her assessment of the evidence.   

The High Court said it came down to the tight protections around jury deliberations in the trial process.  

"The prohibition on the presence of a 13th person in the jury room protects the jury from the suggestion of external influence and promotes the frank exchange of views," it said.  

"Each member of the jury is free to speak in the knowledge that no one other than fellow jurors, each of whom is bound by the oath taken at the commencement of the trial and each of whom will be responsible for the ultimate verdict, hears what is said."  

ALHR president Benedict Coyne said the lived experience of disability is a part of the make-up of the community and must be reflected on juries to ensure access to justice is preserved.  

He said a failure to amend the Jury Act would "perpetuate this gross violation of the human rights of people with disabilities".  

"The role of the jury is to reflect the composition and values of the community; it is unacceptable to have current laws which exclude members of our community on the basis of their disability," he said.  

DSQ chief Craig McDonald said the law was "lagging behind contemporary society with an outdated Jury Act".  

"With this ruling and the exclusion of deaf people from serving on a jury, the courts are taking away a deaf person's right as a human being," he said.  

"A deaf person is just as capable as a hearing person to participate as a juror, the only difference is that rather than hearing the evidence they will see it through sign language."   - ARM NEWSDESK  

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