The Victorian Law Reform Commission (VLRC) has recommended changes to the State’s law and practices to enable people being deaf, hard of hearing, blind or have low vision to serve on juries.
In a report tabled in Parliament and published online, the VLRC said two main barriers currently prevented people who were hard of hearing, blind or had low vision and an old common law rule called ‘the 13th person rule’ which prevents anyone except a juror, including an Auslan interpreter or support person, from being present in the jury room.
The VLRC has called for changes to the Juries Act so that people get the reasonable adjustments they need to be able to serve and it recommends changing the 13 th person rule so that interpreters and support persons can go into the jury room if they take an oath to maintain confidentiality, not participate in or disclose deliberations and to interpret truthfully.
Chair of the VLRC, Tony North said Jury duty was an important civic duty, and people who were deaf, hard of hearing, blind or had low vision should be able to participate like everyone else.
“The law is currently out of step with community expectations, laws and polices about non-discrimination and the inclusion of people with disabilities in public life,” Mr North said.
“This reform will make juries more representative.”
He said the reform would also bring Victoria into line with its obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
“People who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind or have low vision have served on juries overseas in the United States, the United Kingdom and New Zealand,” he said.
“There may be some trials where because of the particular evidence involved it may not be suitable for a person with a particular disability to serve,” Mr North said.
“In that case the person should be returned to the jury pool and have the opportunity to serve on a different trial,” he said.
“This should be decided by the judge.”
The 252-page VLRC report can be accessed on the law reform website at this PS News link.