16 May 2023
The Victorian Law Reform Commission has recommended changes to the law and practice to enable people who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind or have low vision to serve on juries.
The VLRC’s report, Inclusive Juries, was tabled in Parliament and published online today.
Currently two main barriers prevent people who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind or have low vision from serving on juries. The law does not require courts or the Juries Commissioner to provide adjustments such as Auslan interpreters, speech-to-text translators and screen readers. Jury service might be accessible with adjustments but they are generally not provided. And an old common law rule called ‘the 13th person rule’ prevents anyone except a juror, including an Auslan interpreter or support person, from being present in the jury room.
The VLRC has called for changes to the Juries Act, so that people get the reasonable adjustments they need to be able to serve. It also recommends changing the 13th person rule so that interpreters and support persons can go into the jury room, if they take an oath to maintain confidentiality, not participate in or disclose deliberations and to interpret truthfully.
Chair of the VLRC the Hon. Tony North KC said: “Jury duty is an important civic duty, and people who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind or have low vision should be able to participate like everyone else. The law is currently out of step with community expectations, laws and polices about non-discrimination and the inclusion of people with disabilities in public life. This reform will make juries more representative.
“This reform to the law would bring Victoria into line with its obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Furthermore, people who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind or have low vision have served on juries overseas, in the United States, the United Kingdom and New Zealand.
“There may be some trials where because of the particular evidence involved it may not be suitable for a person with a particular disability to serve. In that case the person should be returned to the jury pool and have the opportunity to serve on a different trial. This should be decided by the judge.”
The report is available at www.lawreform.vic.gov.au.
For more information or an interview with the Hon. Anthony North KC please contact:
Nick Gadd, Communications Manager, Mob: 0425 862 119