Deaf jurors were supported for the first time ever in England and Wales by sign language interpreters this summer.
Karen, a volunteer at charity DeafCOG in London, became the first Deaf person to complete jury service with a BSL interpreter at Croydon Crown Court, deliberating over a racially aggravated harassment case.
Karen was also chosen by the other members of the jury to act as the jury foreperson – the spokesperson responsible for announcing the verdict.
Others are now following in Karen’s footsteps, including Paul who served on a serious sexual assault case at Norwich Crown Court last month.
Both jurors had three interpreters who rotated every 20 minutes to assist them, as well as the full support of the judge and HM Courts and Tribunals Service staff.
Speaking about her experiences in court, Karen said:
“My jury experience at Croydon Crown Court went smoothly and exceeded my expectations.”
“The staff, from the jury manager, ushers, clerks and judges were extremely aware of the needs of myself and the BSL interpreting team. I was made to feel included every step of the way.”
“An excellent and amazing opportunity for me and what a great start to leading the way for other Deaf jurors in the future, now that BSL is recognised as a language.”
“Being on jury duty has been a dream of mine and I believe the Deaf/BSL community has so much to offer. When the law changed to allow the Deaf/BSL community to sit on a jury, and I received my summons, naturally I was excited but nervous as I did not know what to expect.”
“Upon arriving at Norwich Crown Court, I was made to feel very welcome and there were three BSL interpreters ready.”
“It was surreal experience and the whole process was streamlined and smooth. The training was clear and easy to follow, then the trial began, and I was amazed that I was treated equally to other jurors. This give me a sense of respect as the other jurors were keen to work with me and make me feel involved.”
“The trial ran over and the interpreters I had been working with were now unavailable. However, I was pleased to see the judge and court staff went above and beyond to find alternative interpreters for the rest of the trial.”
“It was sorted without a hinderance. The judge requested feedback from me on how to improve for future cases and expressed a strong desire to make sure Norwich Crown Court is accessible and fair for all. I was deeply touched by this.”
“I was so honoured to be selected as the foreperson by other members of the jury, making me the first Deaf/BSL foreperson at Norwich Crown Court! It was a very empowering experience and I want to say thank you to everyone at the court and in the jury for making this possible.”
“I look forward to seeing more of the Deaf/BSL community being part of the justice system, as it should be.”
Justice Minister Gareth Johnson stated:
“We are breaking down the barriers for Deaf people carrying out jury service, ensuring they can fully and equally participate in court proceedings.”
“I am delighted that the door is now open to thousands more potential jurors as we establish a more accessible and inclusive justice system for all.”
Work and Pensions Secretary Chloe Smith stated:
“The first Deaf juror completing jury service is an historic moment on our path towards a more inclusive and accessible society. I am so glad to hear of Karen’s positive experience whilse undertaking an important act of public service.”
“Earlier this year the British Sign Language Act became law, and I’m delighted to see that our work to recognise BSL as a language is fulfilling its promise to help remove barriers faced by the D/deaf community.”
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