Law Change in UK Opens Jury Duty to Deaf People

Law Change in UK Opens Jury Duty to Deaf People

Current laws in the UK strictly prohibit anyone beyond the 12 sworn jurors from entering jury deliberation rooms. This is to safeguard against outside influence. However, it means that a sign language interpreter would be deemed an unlawful ‘13th person’, thus preventing those who require their assistance from participating in this important civic duty.

To ensure the justice system is accessible to everyone, ministers are preparing legislation to remove this barrier to allow British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters inside jury rooms.

The move will mean over 80,000 deaf people across England and Wales can now participate in jury service. It forms part of wider reforms announced today seeking to build a fairer justice system.

Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland QC MP, said:

Disability should not be a barrier to people carrying out this most important civic duty.

I am delighted we can open up jury service to many thousands more people and ensure our justice system becomes as accessible and inclusive as possible.

BSL interpreters can already enter courtrooms to assist deaf jurors, however they are currently not allowed into the room where verdicts are considered. This has meant that people with significant hearing impairments would need to be able to lip read during the deliberation process.

Under the changes, interpreters will be contractually bound to a confidentiality agreement, stipulating their obligation to remain impartial at all times and not to divulge any discussions that take place in jury rooms.

It builds on a range of provisions in place to ensure accessibility for jurors with disabilities, including making sure wheelchairs can be properly positioned to view proceedings, and allowing the use of guide dogs and braille cards.

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