BSL for jury service

Prof Jemima Napier

In the UK, there are around seventy thousand deaf people who use British Sign Language (BSL) as their first or preferred language. What do they have in common? They face barriers in all areas of life, from education to employment to healthcare and beyond.


One area where deaf people face severe limitations in society is within the justice system. Though the legal right to an interpreter has long been established, this doesn’t always provide real-world practical solutions – particularly in main stream situations like jury service.

So, what have we done as specialists in BSL to help?

Here at Heriot-Watt, we’ve conducted in depth research into how deaf people can be better communicated with by the police and in some cases how they can become jurors – taking an active part in the legal system.

We’re already seeing attempts to change legislation in Australia and Wales while the first deaf juror served in Ireland in 2017.

It shows that social justice and real change can be achieved through applied and practical research methods