UK Jurors Will Now Include Hearing Impaired BSL Users

After an inclusivity campaign that lasted more than 20 years, the first deaf and hard of hearing jurors in England and Wales have completed their jury service supported by BSL (British Sign Language) interpreters. This change in the law is welcome news for disability rights campaigners in the UK and worldwide. We know an NDIS Provider on the Gold Coast just how hard it can be for those with disabilities to access many things the rest of us take for granted. The law was changed early this year and introduced via the updated Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act. It provides BSL interpreters to be in the court and jury room. 

Working Together 

The first person to be able to undertake jury duty as a deaf juror has been identified only as Karen, and she sat on a racial aggravation case at Croydon Crown Court. Her fellow jurors nominated her as the foreperson and gave the verdict announcement to the judge. This was closely followed by a deaf juror named Paul, who sat for a sexual assault case in Norwich Crown Court. Due to the long hours, each juror was provided with a team of three sign language interpreters who worked on rotation to cover the court time and the jury room discussions. 

When asked about their experiences, Karen said, “My jury experience at Croydon Crown Court went smoothly and exceeded my expectations. The staff, from the jury manager, ushers, clerks and judges, were extremely aware of the needs of the BSL interpreting team and me. I was made to feel included every step of the way. An excellent opportunity for me and a great start to leading the way for other deaf jurors in the future, now that BSL is recognised as a language.”

Overcoming Initial Problems

The case that Paul was involved in took longer than the allotted time, so his BSL team was not available for overtime. However, the court was able to empty replacement staff so that he could continue to see his case through. He, too, was nominated as the jury foreperson and spoke about his experience, “I was amazed that I was treated equally to other jurors. This gave me a sense of respect as the other jurors were keen to work with me and make me feel involved. The judge requested feedback from me on how to improve for future cases and expressed a strong desire to make sure Norwich Crown Court is accessible and fair for all. I look forward to seeing more of the Deaf/BSL community being part of the justice system, as it should be.”

Training for Interpreters

One of the reasons the law took so long to change was that there were concerns about having strangers in the jury room. Of course, the interpreter is not a juror and could potentially influence or interfere with the case, so this had to be built into the training. Interpreters will have the exact confidentiality requirements as jurors and must not discuss the issues with friends or family. They must not influence, interfere or disclose the jury’s deliberations and take an oath. 

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