Deaf News: Breakthrough as Australian sign language user is considered for jury duty

Posted on January 16, 2014

An Australian Deaf woman has become the first Deaf Auslan (Australian sign language) user able to fulfil their civil duty upon receiving a Jury Summons from her local District Court.

This challenges existing views to date in Australia about Deaf people’s capacity and right to serve as jurors.

Drisana Levitzke-Gray of Perth, Western Australia, is Deaf and was summoned to jury service in late 2013, for a trial to be set in January 2014.

She is the first Auslan user in Australia to be allowed to perform her civic duty and to have a NAATI accredited Auslan (Australian Sign Language) / English Professional Interpreter during the proceedings.

The procedure for any person summoned to jury duty is to attend the particular courthouse on the specified date, which in this case was the Perth District Court on 14 January 2014. Approximately 200 people randomly selected from the WA (Western Australia) electoral roll were present on the day, ready to meet their civic responsibility.

Upon arrival, potential jurors are given a specific identity number, and their number goes into a random ballot for selection for trials, or to return to work if not empanelled.

Drisana attended the courthouse with an Auslan/English Interpreter employed by Sign Language Communications (WA), the agency which worked with Drisana in advocating for her right to participate in the justice process.

Drisana was ballot selected alongside 43 other potential jurors for a particular case about to go on trial that morning. This means she made it through the initial summons stage, and the preliminary ballot stage.

Upon entering the courtroom for the case to be tried, a total of 14 people were then ballot selected again from the 44 potential jurors to serve on the jury trial. Drisana’s number was not randomly chosen at this stage, along with 29 hearing people who were also not empanelled.

Nonetheless, she is the first Deaf sign language user in Australian history to have completed their civic duty as a member of Australian society, moving through the jury selection summons and selection process in the same way hearing people would expect to.

Australia can now join the United States of America (USA) and New Zealand as one of only a handful of countries in the world that have permitted Deaf people to potentially be selected as a juror for a criminal trial or to serve on a jury.

Potential Deaf jurors are usually exempted from duty when they respond to the summons requesting an interpreter in order to participate in proceedings.

There have been cases of discrimination complaints from a number of Deaf people in New South Wales and Queensland, which include a case recently levelled against the State Government of Queensland, which was unsuccessful, but is now being appealed.

Further reading: ‘Stop stonewalling Deaf jurors’ by Cathy Heffernan (Guardian, 2010)

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