Australian woman loses High Court Deaf juror battle

Gaye Lyons

A Queensland woman has lost a High Court battle to become the first deaf juror in Australia.

Gaye Lyons, who can lip-read but requires an Auslan interpreter to communicate, launched the unprecedented case after being excluded from an Ipswich court, west of Brisbane, in 2012.

The 69-year-old alleged she had been discriminated against by the Queensland Government by the refusal to provide her with an interpreter so she could perform her civic duty as a juror.

The Queensland Government had argued the law did not allow an interpreter to be in the jury room.

Lawyers for the Government also raised concerns about the difficulty of making sure the translations were accurate.

In a unanimous ruling, the High Court found Queensland law did not permit an Auslan interpreter to assist while the jury was together, so Ms Lyons would not be capable of performing the functions of a juror.

Ms Lyons said she felt angry and frustrated with the High Court’s decision.

She said when she was originally refused to be a juror she “just saw red” and decided to take action.

“We’re the same as everybody else, we’re human, we have kids, we go to work, we drive cars, we pay mortgages – I was just fuming because I could not have equal access to this,” she said.

“Why should the powers that be decide what’s right for me, why should they decide what I can and can’t do – it just made me livid, I was seething about the whole thing?”

Ms Lyons said the Jury Act needed to change.

“After five years of struggle, just fighting for access for
the Australian deaf community, it felt like a slap in the face,” she said.

“For them [the High Court] to say that interpreters could not relay information accurately, that was the living end and the last straw for me.

“It wasn’t a nice feeling to know that inherently – interpreters — that their translations were not correct, it was a terrible thing to say.

“The court stenographers – I have to say – are they always 100 per cent accurate?”

Vowing to continue to advocate for change, Ms Lyons said the courts already used interpreters in proceedings for other cases such as murder and in the Family Court.

“They trust interpreters to work in those settings – what’s the difference with trusting them to relay in a jury room? What’s the difference if they work in court anyway?” she said.