An academic from Heriot-Watt University is part of a team of researchers who have been recognised with a major honour for their work on whether deaf people can serve as jurors in Australia.
Professor Jemina Napier, won the inaugural Andrea Durbach Award for Human Rights Scholarship for a pioneering article entitled: 'Justice is blind as long it isn't deaf: excluding deaf people from jury duty – An Australian human right breach'.
She was one of four authors who contributed to the work, which included Professor David Spencer, Ms. Mehera San Roque and Professor Sandra Hale. The team carried out comprehensive research into deaf citizens as jurors since 2012 with the University of New South Wales, funded by an Australia Research Council Linkage Project.
"We are already starting to see the impact of this research with a change in state legislation in Australia, and Ireland allowed its first deaf juror to serve at the end of 2017."
Until recently, deaf people in Australia could not serve as members of the jury because the Jury Act in each state/territory prohibits the presence of an interpreter in the jury deliberation room as this would constitute a “13th person” in the room.
However, the published research has shown that deaf people who use sign language can perform just as well as other peers in mock trial cases and that competent and ethical interpreters do not interfere with the jurors' deliberations. The Australian Capital Territory Government was the first state government to change its legislation to allow deaf people to serve as jurors in March 2018, as a result of the evidence from this research.
Professor Jemina Napier, Deputy of School and Head of Languages and Intercultural Studies at Heriot-Watt, said: “We are very proud to have received this award for our research, as serving on a jury is an important part of citizenship that deaf people have typically been excluded from. We are already starting to see the impact of this research with a change in state legislation in Australia, and Ireland allowed its first deaf juror to serve at the end of 2017.
"So we envisage this research will effect change in many countries that do not currently allow deaf people to serve as jurors.”
Alastair McEwin, Australian Disability Discrimination Commissioner, said: “People with disability experience many barriers to access to justice. What many people don't think about is the right to serve on a jury, a basic duty of citizenship and one that is denied to deaf people in Australia. This award is a great recognition of the extensive research that has been undertaken to demonstrate, quite simply, that deaf people are capable of serving on juries on an equal basis to others.”
The authors of the article have donated their $1000 prize to Deaf Australia's Jury Rights for All campaign and Deaf Australia wishes to congratulate the authors for their contribution and thanks the Editorial Board for recognising the authors' contribution to this important human rights campaign.
The Andrea Durbach Award for Human Rights Scholarship was established by the Australian Human Rights Journal in 2017. The prize is name in honour of Professor Andrea Durbach, in recognition of her significant service to human rights.
The prize is awarded annually to an author/s whose work has been published in the Australian Journal of Human Rights, and whose article reflects the values that have long resonated in Andrea's career and scholarship. These include the courage to push the boundaries of human rights debates; the creativity to examine issues that cut across different academic disciplines and a desire to press for human rights accountability to ensure that the voices that are not always heard can be magnified.