Legal body pushes for deaf juror equality

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An Australian legal body has called for immediate reforms to Queensland’s Jury Act following an “unacceptable” incident, which saw a deaf person restricted from performing jury duty.

Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR) said it is gravely concerned about the operation of Queensland’s Jury Act, after the High Court dismissed the appeal in Lyons v Queensland, upholding that the exclusion of deaf woman Gayle Lyons from performing jury duty is not direct or indirect discrimination under the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 (Qld).

“The High Court has found that without specific legislative provision, the Jury Act does not permit an Auslan interpreter to be present during jury deliberations,” ALHR president Benedict Coyne said.

“Accordingly, Ms Lyons is not qualified to serve as a juror and the deputy registrar was required to exclude her from the jury panel. As a result, the exercise of the deputy registrar’s powers under theJury Act is not discriminatory.

“The role of the jury is to reflect the composition and values of the community. It is unacceptable to have current laws which exclude members of our community on the basis of their disability. The lived experience of disability is a part of the makeup of the community and must be reflected on our juries to ensure access to justice is preserved.”

Mr Coyne suggested that the decision contradicts Australia’s commitment to the human rights of people with disabilities.

“It is absolutely clear under article 13 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) that people with disabilities have the right to participate as direct and indirect participants of the justice system, which includes serving as jurors,” Mr Coyne said.

“The current operation of the Jury Act in Queensland violates that right by excluding people on the basis of their disability and must be reformed immediately.

“While the decision of the High Court today dismissed the appeal in relation to the claim of discrimination, it is resoundingly clear that the Jury Act must be changed to be inclusive of people with disabilities, including deaf persons who require Auslan interpreters to communicate. A failure to do so will perpetuate this gross violation of the human rights of people with disabilities.”