When Emma Ferguson-Coleman received a jury service summons, she wrote to HM Courts and Tribunal Service informing them that as a profoundly deaf person, she needed an interpreter in order to follow both the court proceedings as well as deliberations in the jury room.
Their response was to send her a letter informing her that they were unable to accept her as a member of the jury, primarily because only jurors are allowed to be present in the jury room (an interpreter would constistute a ’13th person’).
The letter also quoted section 9B of the Jury Act 1974, as seen below:
Ferguson-Coleman told me that “I am gutted that I am perceived not to have the capacity to make those types of decisions. It doesn’t help to hear from our American counterparts that they have been successfully selected and have taken part as equal citizens. How did it make me feel? Like a second class citizen.”
In an article for the Guardian online in 2010, journalist Cathy Heffernan argued that “for the UK jury system to work it needs to prioritise inclusivity – and that means allowing deaf people to sit as jurors, too.” Heffernan found that in the Irish justice system she was also deemed ‘incapable’ and barred from being part of a jury.
As the letter Ferguson-Coleman received shows, deaf people are still barred from jury service and it could be argued that the references in section 9B that refer to a “doubt as to his/her capacity to act effectively as a juror” deems deaf people as being of lesser capacity than their hearing counterparts.
Second class citizens? Sounds about right.
By Charlie Swinbourne