Jury instructions: comparing hearing and deaf jurors’ comprehension via direct or mediated communication
Issue: Vol 24 No. 1 (2017)
Subject Areas: Linguistics
This project investigated the capacity of deaf people using Australian Sign Language (Auslan) to serve as jurors. Following on from a pilot study with 6 deaf and 6 hearing people acting as ‘jurors’ (see Napier & Spencer, 2007, 2008), this project replicated the method of the earlier study, and compared the level of comprehension of 30 deaf jurors to a control group of 30 non-deaf (‘hearing’) jurors from three different major cities in Australia; in order to assess the ability for deaf jurors to comprehend jury instructions when mediated via a signed language interpreter, as compared to comprehension of hearing jurors receiving the instructions directly in spoken English. The methodology involved combining quantitative and qualitative approaches in the experimental design of a comprehension test with post-test interviews. The results showed that the pilot study findings were replicated, and that deaf and hearing people equally misunderstood content of jury instructions. The findings may have significant impact in pioneering law reform in Australia and internationally, by providing evidence for the fact that deaf people are not disadvantaged at having to access information via sign language interpreters, and therefore receiving mediated, as opposed to direct, access to courtroom discourse.
Author: Jemina Napier, David Spencer
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