High Court says no law allows deaf jurors

AN Ipswich woman has lost her fight to become Australia's first deaf juror after the High Court found there was no law allowing an Auslan interpreter to be present during jury deliberations.

Gaye Lyons, who is profoundly deaf, took action after she was excluded from an Ipswich District Court jury in 2012.

The High Court, in a decision handed down this morning, held that the Court of Appeal did not err in holding Ms Lyons was not discriminated against when she was excluded from jury service.

"... a deaf person who requires the services of an interpreter in order to communicate with others is not eligible for jury service in Queensland," the judgment read.

"The Deputy Registrar's decision not to include (Ms Lyons) in a jury panel did not constitute unlawful discrimination in the performance of her functions or the exercise of her powers under Queensland law."

Ms Lyons had argued there was a choice under the Jury Act to impose a functional test rather than to exclude from jury service all people with some form of impairment, saying the legislation reflects an intention that juries be representative of the community as a whole.

The State of Queensland argued a deaf juror who had the evidence mediated through the services of an Auslan interpreter was not able to give a true verdict based upon his or her assessment of the evidence.

The High Court said it came down to the tight protections around jury deliberations and therefore the whole trial process.

"The presence of a person other than a juror in the jury room during the course of deliberations is an incurable irregularity regardless of whether the person takes any part in the jury's deliberations," the judgment read.

"The prohibition on the presence of a 13th person in the jury room protects the jury from the suggestion of external influence and promotes the frank exchange of views.

"Each member of the jury is free to speak in the knowledge that no one other than fellow jurors, each of whom is bound by the oath taken at the commencement of the trial and each of whom will be responsible for the ultimate verdict, hears what is said."

Deaf Services Queensland chief Craig McDonald  thanked Ms Lyons for seeking equality and raising awareness for this issue within the wider community.

He said he hoped the spotlight on the issue could effect future legislative change towards equality.

"We understand that it is the law that is lagging behind contemporary society with an outdated Jury Act that fails to acknowledge or recognise the needs of deaf people," he said.

"The deaf community is part of society and a hallmark of every great society is inclusion.

"With this ruling and the exclusion of deaf people from serving on a jury, the courts are taking away a deaf person's right as a human being.

"A deaf person is just as capable as a hearing person to participate as a juror, the only difference is that rather than hearing the evidence they will see it through sign language."