The rights of two deaf people in Australia were violated when they were called up for jury service but then told they could not have the support they needed, in the form of sign language interpretation and real-time captioning, to participate in the proceedings, UN experts have found.
“States that have ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, as Australia has, are obliged to make reasonable accommodation to ensure people with disability can enjoy or exercise the same rights as everyone else and can take part fully in all aspects of life,” said Damjan Tatic, from the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. “This did not happen in these cases.”
G.B. was called up for jury duty in New South Wales (NSW) in November 2012 and informed the body that oversees functioning of the courts, the Office of the Sheriff of New South Wales, that she would need Australian Sign Language (Auslan) interpreting. M.L. was called up three times in 2012 and told officials that he would need real-time steno-captioning.
The Sheriff’s Office said such support could not be provided, as it would undermine confidentiality by introducing a non-jury person into the jury deliberation room. In M.L.’s case, he was also warned he would be fined for not attending jury service.
In its findings on the two cases, the Committee noted that Australia argued that providing Auslan interpreters or steno-captioning affected the complexity, cost and duration of trials, yet “it [did] not provide any data or analysis to demonstrate that it would constitute a disproportionate or undue burden.”
“Further, while the confidentiality principle of jury deliberations must be observed, the State party does not provide any argument justifying that no adjustment could be made to enable the Auslan interpreter (or the person assisting with steno-captioning) to perform his/her functions without affecting the confidentiality of the deliberations of the jury, such as a special oath before a court,” the Committee wrote.
In both cases, the Committee found that the rights of the complainants had been violated under various articles of the Convention*, including with regard to equality and non-discrimination; accessibility; and access to justice.
Among its recommendations, the Committee called upon Australia to enable the complainants to participate in jury duty by providing reasonable accommodation in the form of Auslan interpreting and steno-captioning, “in a manner that is respecting the confidentiality of proceedings, at all stages of the jury selection and court proceedings.”
The Committee recommended that Australia should ensure that every time a person with disabilities is called up for jury duty, “a thorough, objective and comprehensive assessment of his/her request for adjustment is carried out, and all reasonable accommodations are duly provided to enable his/her full participation.”
“The Committee accepts that States need to have a certain margin of interpretation when assessing whether demands for changes or adjustments are disproportionate or create an undue burden, but rejecting a request needs to be based on a proper evaluation,” said Mr. Tatic.
“Jury service is an important aspect of civic life. Persons with disabilities should be able to participate in the justice system, not only as claimant, victim or defendant, but also as jurors on an equal basis with everyone else,” he added.
Australia has six months to provide a written response to the Committee on any action it has taken.
The CRPD considered these cases under the Optional Protocol to the Convention which gives the Committee competence to examine individual complaints. The Committee adopted its findings, known as views, on 1 April 2016 and published them on 25 April 2016 here:
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The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is one of 10 committees, known as Treaty Bodies, that monitor implementation by States of the core international human rights treaties, in this case the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Committee is composed of 18 independent human rights experts drawn from around the world. They serve in their personal capacity and not as representatives of States parties:
*Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/CRPD/Pages/ConventionRightsPersonsWithDisabilities.aspx
Individual complaints procedure: