Letter: Justice for disabled

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The Independent Culture
Letter: Justice for disabled

Sir: The issue of whether deaf people should be entitled to do jury service ("Deaf people may get seat on juries", May 8) raises questions about their access to justice.

At every stage of the criminal justice system deaf people whose first language is British sign language are discriminated against, whether as victims of crime, defendants or witnesses. A deaf person who is arrested may be handcuffed with their hands behind their back, preventing them from communicating in sign language. In the absence of a properly qualified sign language interpreter, a police caution or charge may not be understood.

Police interviews, audiotaped in usual circumstances, are unlikely to be videotaped where an interviewee uses sign language, compromising a deaf suspect's right to an accurate record of the interview against which a transcript can be checked. The shortage of qualified and registered interpreters for court interpreting can jeopardise a defendant's right to a fair trial or a true translation of a witness's testimony.

The Government has made some progress. The Lord Chancellor's department now pays for sign language interpreters in criminal cases where necessary (although there is a serious shortage) and Paul Boateng's review of jury exclusions is a welcome, if long overdue, development. Interestingly, a jury summons form, while including certain criteria for disqualification, makes no specific reference to deafness.

JEFF McWHINNEY

Chief Executive

British Deaf Association

London EC2

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