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Study of the Potential Impact of having Deaf People Serve as Jurors

A research project being undertaken by Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. The results of this project will lead to a greater understanding of the feasibility for deaf people to serve as jurors, and will potentially influence law reform, access to justice, and rights as citizens to participate in the administration of justice.

The research team has designed an online survey that aims to elicit the perceptions of legal professionals and sign language interpreters about whether deaf people who use sign language can serve as jurors, and if so, the impact (positive or negative) of having deaf jurors and sign language interpreters involved in the trying of a criminal case.

We are endeavouring to disseminate the survey through professional Associations and networks for legal and interpreting professionals throughout Australia, Canada, UK, US, New Zealand, South Africa and Ireland. We would be most grateful if you would be willing to direct people to the link and/or distribute the attached flyer, and encourage participation from legal professionals and sign language interpreters.

Please distribute information with the following link: (https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/deafjuror)

I have included background information on the project below but if you have any comments, questions or concerns about the study, before you agree to distribute the flyer, please do not hesitate to contact us at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

PROJECT BACKGROUND

This survey forms part of a suite of research projects being led by Associate Professor Jemina Napier, in the Department of Linguistics at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, which will analyse the feasibility of deaf people who use sign language serving as jurors.

At present, deaf people are only permitted to serve as jurors in criminal trials in some states in the United States. There have been ad hoc instances of deaf people participating in juries in other countries, such as New Zealand, but in the majority of countries deaf people are not legally permitted to serve on a jury. We are conducting a major research project to assess whether deaf people can participate in the administration of justice, which was initially initiated by the New South Wales Law Reform Commission in Australia, with a view to informing law reform.

There are three stages of the project, which involves a suite of research studies: (1) deaf and hearing people completing a comprehension test as ‘mock-jurors’ to ascertain if they can comprehend the content of legal discourse (completed), (2) a survey and follow-up interviews with interpreters and legal professionals about their perceptions of sign language interpreting in court and whether deaf people can serve as jurors, and (3) a mock-trial involving a deaf juror and sign language interpreters to evaluate the actual impact of having a deaf person on a jury.

Results from a pilot study in the first stage revealed both hearing and deaf ‘jurors’ misunderstood some concepts. In relation to the closed/multiple choice questions, approximately 10.5% of the questions were answered incorrectly by all participants. Of the open-ended questions, some responses were problematic from both deaf and hearing participants. In the post-test interviews, all participants commented that the facts were easy to follow, but that the legalistic language and amount of repetition made the text difficult to comprehend. In sum, findings showed that both the deaf and hearing ‘jurors’ equally misunderstood some terms and concepts, and thus deaf people can equally understand the facts of a case as their hearing counterparts. Analysis of findings showed that legal facts and concepts can be conveyed in Auslan effectively enough for deaf people to access court proceedings and thus serve as jurors (Napier & Spencer, 2008; Napier, Spencer & Sabolcec, 2009).

THE RESEARCH TEAM

Chief Investigator: Associate Professor Jemina Napier, Department of Linguistics, Macquarie University, Australia (Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)
Co-investigator: Professor David Spencer, Faculty of Law and Management, La Trobe University, Australia
Co-investigator: Dr Meg Rohan, Statistics consultant, Australia

Research assistant: Gerry Shearim, Department of Linguistics, Macquarie University, Australia (Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

Research intern: MaryFaith Autumn, Department of Interpretation, Gallaudet University, USA

This project is funded by the Macquarie University DVC-Research Discretionary Fund.