Remove barriers to jurors with disability, Vic told

·2-min read
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Victoria is lagging other countries by effectively excluding people who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind or have low vision from serving on juries.

The state's law reform commission is calling for an overhaul of the justice system to enable juries to be inclusive, a change it said was "well overdue", in a report tabled in parliament on Tuesday.

Excluding people with those disabilities from serving on juries was out of step with community expectations and inconsistent with international standards, the Victorian Law Reform Commission said.

It means Victoria lags many countries where inclusive juries have been a reality for a long time.

In the US, people with disabilities have served as jurors for more than three decades, the commission said.

"A broad cross-section of our community should be represented on our juries, with members bringing different views and experiences to deliberation," the commission said in the report.

"People who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind or have low vision want barriers to jury service removed.

"They want to be able to discuss with an official what they can and cannot do, and what adjustments they require to serve."

The commission pointed to two main issues as making jury service inaccessible to people with disabilities in Victoria.

Firstly, the state's juries legislation did not require authorities responsible for administering the jury system to make adjustments such as Auslan interpreters, speech-to-text translations or screen reading to allow people with disabilities to serve.

Support people including Auslan interpreters were also barred from entering jury rooms under the "13th person rule", which stated only jurors could be present to keep jurors' deliberations secret.

The commission recommended a swathe of changes to the system, including that adjustments should be made to allow people with disabilities to serve as jurors where possible.

Legislation should also be amended to set out exceptions to the 13th person rule, allowing for interpreters or support people to be present in a jury room where necessary, the commission said.

The Victorian government would carefully review recommendations from the report, a spokesman said.

"Juries are fundamental to the fair and effective administration of Victoria's justice system and it's important that they reflect our diverse community," the spokesman said.

"We'll continue to work closely with people with disability and advocacy groups to make the justice system more accessible, safe and inclusive."

The ACT became Australia's first and only jurisdiction to allow for the court system to make adjustments to enable people with disabilities to serve on juries in 2018, the report noted.