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Deaf woman sues government for her right to serve on a jury

After being unwillingly excluded from jury duty in 2012, Queensland resident Gaye Lyons has brought a discrimination case against the Queensland government to fight for her right to serve as a juror.

Gaye Lyons Photograph

Plaintiff, Ms Gaye Lyons

“Its the 21st century, times have changed, and people with disabilities need to participate in society more,” said Ms Lyons, Office Administrator at Deafness peak body Deaf Australia, “We have to pay equal taxes yet we are not treated equally and allowed to serve our society.”
Ms Lyons was refused the opportunity for jury selection because she is deaf and needs an Auslan interpreter in the selection process, in court proceedings and in the jury room.
A State Government barrister told the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal that the Jury Act prevented Ms Lyons from effectively serving as a juror.
The State Government claims the Act does not allow an Auslan interpreter – a 13th person – in a jury room when jurors are deliberating, but this is disputed by Ms Lyons’ lawyer Phillip French.
In February last year, Ms Lyons received an email from Ipswich District Court deputy registrar Katrina Britton telling her she was excluded from jury selection under the Act.
Ms Lyons is alleging that this was direct and indirect discrimination.
The tribunal was told no deaf person has ever served on a jury in Australia and interpreters are not allowed in jury rooms anywhere in the country.
However, deaf people have served on juries in the United States and a deaf person has been a juror in a New Zealand tax fraud case.
He said Ms Lyons had been deprived of her opportunity to perform an important civic duty and had been unjustly characterised as incompetent.
“We say she is capable of performing the function of a juror,” Mr French said.
Barrister Kerri Mellifont SC, for the State Government, said the decision to exclude Ms Lyons from jury selection was not based on her impairment.
She said the Jury Act said a person could not do jury service if they could not perform the functions of a juror and Ms Lyons could not do that without an interpreter.
Ms Mellifont said jury deliberations could not be disclosed to anyone other than another juror and that would exclude Auslan interpreters from the jury room.
“Many people are not aware of the strict code of ethics that Auslan Interpreters must abide by,” said Deaf Australia Executive Officer Karen Lloyd, “Interpreters will only interpret what is being said; they will not add or exclude information, offer their own opinions or advice, or discuss what they have heard with anyone.”
“Having an interpreter in the jury room should not compromise the process in any way.”
Professor Jemina Napier also gave evidence via phone from Scotland about a study resulting from mock trials of hearing and deaf jurors.
She said it found deaf people did not seem disadvantaged by having interpreters at court, but more research was needed.

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