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ACT looking at implications of High Court deaf juror decision

The ACT Justice and Community Safety Directorate is considering the issues for territory jury practices arising from a Queensland woman's defeated High Court bid to become the first deaf juror.

The High Court last week found Gaye Lyons, who can lip read but requires an interpreter in order to communicate, was not discriminated against when a Queensland court excluded her from jury service in 2012.

The basis of the High Court's judgment – that Queensland law had no provisions allowing an interpreter to be in the jury room – also applied in the ACT, according to a Justice and Community Safety spokeswoman.

"A jury for a criminal trial consists of 12 jurors who take an oath of confidentiality prior to undertaking their role," the spokeswoman said.

"There is no specific provision under the Juries Act 1967 permitting the inclusion of Auslan interpreters, or any person [who is] not a juror, in the jury room."

The Juries Act disqualifies people from jury lists who are "unable to read and speak the English language" or those incapable of serving as a juror due to "mental or physical disability".

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The JACS spokeswoman said the judge presiding over a case would probably consider somebody who required an Auslan interpreter to join them in the jury room to be "unable to perform their duties", though the sheriff would typically make the decision while preparing the jury list.

The ACT's Discrimination Act stipulates that administrative actions are not unlawful if performed to comply with a territory law requirement.

"Discrimination law generally recognises that there is an obligation to make reasonable adjustments to support a person with a disability to participate, unless that would cause unjustifiable hardship," the spokeswoman said.

"Given both the High Court's recent ruling and the absence of a provision allowing interpreters to be permitted in the jury room, it is likely that if the ACT sheriff, in preparing the jury list determines that a deaf person is not capable of serving as a juror the sheriff would not be found to be discriminating against the potential juror."

However, the spokeswoman said the issues raised in the High Court decision were "currently being considered".

People With Disability Australia co-chief executive Ngila Bevan condemned the High Court decision, flagging plans to refer the case to the UN Committee to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

"People who are deaf, or who require Auslan interpretation to participate in court proceedings, are being denied equal recognition before the law and this must change," she said.

"It's a problem across both civil and criminal justice systems, and it's time for our courts and legal process to adapt to peoples differing communication requirements."