First deaf person to serve on jury


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Apr 18, 2004
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Sign language interpreters have made it possible for a deaf Victoria University lecturer to serve on a jury in what is believed to be a first for New Zealand.

David McKee decided to try to become a juror after receiving a summons for Wellington District Court, but did not hold out much hope that he would be selected.

"I was sure they would challenge me and throw me out," he said through an interpreter.

But not only was he picked for a jury to hear a tax case, his fellow jurors made him foreman.

"It went really smoothly," he said. "I felt like I was able to do my duty as a citizen."

Dr McKee, an American-born senior lecturer in deaf studies, has been in New Zealand 14 years and is the first deaf person to teach in a university here. He had been picked for juries twice in the United States. He knew other deaf New Zealanders had wanted to go on juries but had not been able to.

When he received his jury summons he contacted the Office for Disability Issues, and the court arranged sign language interpreters.

Two interpreters were needed to meet safety and health standards for the amount of signing needed during the two-day trial.

The judge explained to everyone that the proceedings would be interpreted and not to let it become a distraction. The confidentiality of jury deliberations remained, even though the interpreter was with the jury while it considered its verdicts.

Dr McKee said the bill currently before Parliament to have sign language recognised as an official language, and for use in legal proceedings, probably made officials more open to having an interpreter in the court and jury room.

The other jurors told him the experience was interesting, and he taught them to sign "yes" when they were asked at the end of the case if their verdict was unanimous.

The court was very supportive, and as a test case it worked well, Dr McKee said.

AdvertisementAdvertisementHe hoped he had opened the court door for other deaf people.

The Justice Ministry's district courts general manager, Tony Fisher, said it was for the presiding judge to consider whether it was appropriate to have a deaf juror in any given case.

Regulations setting the usual fees for witnesses and interpreters allow for the court to pay interpreters $75-$175 a day.