Law change opens door to Deaf jurors

Lady using Sign Language

Deaf people requiring the use of a sign language interpreter will be allowed to take part in jury service for the first time.

Current laws strictly prohibit anyone beyond the 12 sworn jurors from entering jury deliberation rooms. This is to safeguard against outside influence. However, it means that an interpreter would be deemed an unlawful ‘13th person’, thus preventing those who require their assistance from participating in this important civic duty.

Government ministers are determined to ensure the justice system is accessible to everyone and will therefore legislate to remove this barrier to allow British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters inside jury rooms.

The move will mean over 80,000 deaf people across England and Wales can now participate in jury service. It forms part of wider reforms announced this week seeking to build a fairer justice system.

Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland QC MP, said: “Disability should not be a barrier to people carrying out this most important civic duty.

“I am delighted we can open up jury service to many thousands more people and ensure our justice system becomes as accessible and inclusive as possible.”

BSL interpreters can already enter courtrooms to assist deaf jurors, however they are currently not allowed into the room where verdicts are considered. This has meant that people with significant hearing impairments would need to be able to lip read during the deliberation process.

Under the changes, interpreters will be contractually bound to a confidentiality agreement, stipulating their obligation to remain impartial at all times and not to divulge any discussions that take place in jury rooms.

It builds on a range of provisions in place to ensure accessibility for jurors with disabilities, including making sure wheelchairs can be properly positioned to view proceedings, and allowing the use of guide dogs and braille cards.

Annie Roberts, Advocacy Officer at RNID said: “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 its 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.”