A Deaf woman from Perth has been the first Deaf person in Australia to take part in a jury selection process.
Drisana Levitzke-Gray was summoned for jury service in Western Australia in late 2013 and is the first Auslan user in Australia to be allowed to continue with this process and to have an Auslan interpreter during the proceedings, held on 14 January 2014.
Although Drisana was not chosen to be on a jury for a trial during the selection this week (selected by random ballot), this is a win for the Deaf community, as it challenges currently existing views in Australia about Deaf people’s right and capacity to serve as jurors.
Australia is now a step closer to joining a handful of other countries (including USA and New Zealand) that accept Deaf people to serve on a jury. Congratulations Drisana on achieving this significant step forward!
Other Deaf people in other Australian states have tried to serve on a jury but have been excluded because they are deaf. Australia has six states and two territories and the laws are different in each. So Deaf people must challenge the laws differently in each state.
Two Deaf people in NSW were unable to take their claim to court because of how the laws there are so they have taken their complaint to the UN.
Gaye Lyons in Queensland took her case to the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal in 2013, and the Tribunal passed judgement early in 2014. Gaye lost her case. She is now appealing the case. If she loses her appeal, she too may have to take her case to the UN.
Drisana’s case is significant because it is the first time in Australia that a Deaf person has not been excluded on the basis of her deafness at the start of the jury process. She was allowed to take part, with an interpreter, in the jury selection process at the court house. This process begins with random ballots. Drisana was selected by random ballot in the first ballot but her number did not come up in the second random ballot.
Although this does not mean she would have been permitted to actually serve on the jury if she had been selected in the final ballot, it is an important step forward.
Drisana’s achievement applies only to the laws in Western Australia. However, it sets a precedent that hopefully will influence other Australian states.