Deaf people cannot currently serve as jurors in Australia. Originally deaf people were exempt due to their inability to hear, however this is no longer the concern. The long-held Common law principle that there cannot be a non-juror ‘stranger’ (i.e. an interpreter) as a 13th person in the jury room (Heffernen, 2010) is now the main driver keeping deaf candidates from serving as jurors.
The apprehension is that interpreters would inappropriately participate in confidential jury deliberations; despite the fact they are bound by a code of ethics, which requires them to remain impartial and uphold confidentiality. It is a difficult argument, as up until now there has been no evidence on the impact that an interpreter may have as 13th person in the jury room.
To test the impact a project took place on 16th -17th July this year, with the assistance of ACU’s Law and Business Executive Dean, Professor David Spencer. A mock trial of an accused charged with possession and trafficking of drugs was carried out at the Sydney West Trial Courts in Parramatta, facilitated by the NSW Department of Police and Justice.
The trial was overseen by retired district court judge, Justice Chris Geraghty, with actors performing in the roles of the accused and his mother.
A mock jury comprising eleven hearing jurors and one deaf juror observed the trial proceedings, interpreted by an accredited Auslan interpreter.
A verdict was reached in just over two hours. Following the mock trial, investigators conducted interviews with the actors, witnesses, legal professionals, court personnel, the deaf juror and the Auslan interpreter, in addition to a focus group with the hearing jurors.
ACU’s Professor David Spencer commented on the project. “This project is the important second step in determining whether deaf people are able to sit as members of juries. The first part of the project conducted by Professor Napier and I back in 2005/06 determined that the levels of comprehension between hearing and deaf people using Auslan interpretation were very similar. This second step will provide valuable evidence of the logistical issues surrounding having one or more deaf people as members of a jury. It will also examine the impact of using Auslan interpreters in court and having a 13th person inside the jury room.
“The mock trial was a great success in terms of replicating a genuine jury trial. Having genuine: court officers; prosecution; defence; informants; and, a jury, all set in a real NSW District Court room gave a real sense of authenticity to the proceedings. This authenticity flowed across to the jury and enabled them to participate in a simulation that was as real as possible.
“Should the analysis of the evidence collected show that the impact of having a deaf person on the jury is negligible then the research team will be in a position to make submissions to the various Attorneys-General in each state, territory and federally to remove yet another layer of discrimination currently suffered by deaf members of our community.”