The clear message which has emerged from this enquiry is that enabling people who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind or have low vision to serve on juries is well overdue. Victorians can be proud that the laws of their state are generally up to date and reflect the outlook of the community. However, the research set out in this report shows that by effectively excluding those who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind or have low vision from jury service, the law in Victoria is out of step with local community expectations, is inconsistent with international standards, and lags behind many countries in which inclusive juries have been a reality for many years.
This report was generated by the Commission itself as a community law reform project pursuant to section 5(1)(b) of the Victorian Law Reform Commission Act 2000. The reader will, I am sure, be struck by the depth of research and the comprehensiveness of the discussion. Whilst this subject has been investigated by other law reform agencies, none has provided as wide-ranging a survey as this report. That is primarily the result of the efforts of Emma Cashen, team leader, and Phoebe Lindner, research and policy officer. Not only have they worked particularly hard, but they have had to contend with the adverse conditions produced by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, including home schooling and conducting consultations remotely. Despite these challenges, nothing deterred Emma and Phoebe from chasing down every piece of relevant information and crafting it into this first-rate work. I also thank Sarah Sacher, research and policy officer, and Grace Bramwell, researcher, who worked on the earlier consultation paper.
Until the final stage, the progress of the report was overseen by a Division of the Commission which I constituted under section 13(1)(b) of the Victorian Law Reform Commission Act 2000, comprising Liana Buchanan, the Hon. Jennifer Coate AO, Bruce Gardner PSM, Gemma Varley PSM and me. Upon their appointments Kathleen Foley SC and Dr Vivian Waller joined the Division. In the end, the report is the work of all nine Commissioners. Those who were not part of the Division—Professor Bernadette McSherry and Dan Nicholson—nonetheless commented on the final draft and made extensive and valuable suggestions. The work of the Division, and the other Commissioners, on this reference turned out to be particularly onerous because the timing of critical moments intersected with heavy workloads relating to concurrent references. Despite this, they engaged closely with this report and made many thoughtful and detailed comments on the drafts. Their contributions were all made in a spirit of collegiality, cooperation, and good humour.
Professor Emeritus Ron McCallum AO was a Special Advisor for the report. His contribution has been very significant. Not only has he devoted much time and energy to commenting on the various drafts, but he has brought a distinctive and critical perspective to the work of the team and the Commission because of his own life experience as a person blind from birth who has achieved so much. He is the first totally blind person to be appointed a professor in Australia and to be the Dean of the Law School, University of Sydney. For many years he was the Chair of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. I thank him for his generosity, wisdom, and guidance. It is fitting that his voice is reflected in this report because he has been such a prominent advocate for the rights of people with disabilities for a very
This report is built on the foundation of the contributions made by all those people with whom we consulted. Foremost among them were the organisations which advocate for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, blind or who have low vision. I hope their sense of frustration about the current inequitable position comes through clearly in this report. We again called for assistance from representatives of the courts and lawyers who deal with juries on a regular basis. I acknowledge their generosity in spending time with us after their workday duties were finished. We also leant heavily on the experience of the Victorian Juries Commissioner who provided much important information.
The administration of the Commission continues behind the scenes whilst the consultation and research for the report proceeds. The CEO, Merrin Mason PSM, provided that steady hand and wise counsel which is essential for the proper working of the system. She was assisted by the administrative staff: Jeniffer Joyner, Monika George, and Janis Dunk.
The final processes in the production of the report, including editing, proofreading and arranging for layout and printing, are extremely labour-intensive and the team could not have completed this phase without the assistance of Nick Gadd, Communications Manager and Gemma Walsh, Information and Communications officer. Other staff of the Commission—Emma Larking, Madeleine Ulbrick, Natalie Lilford and Marcus Hickleton, who had just finalised the report into stalking, were of great assistance at this final stage.
I trust that you will take the strong human rights message from this report and enjoy reading it.
The Hon. A M North QC
Victorian Law Reform Commission