In Issue

  • Whether the exclusion of a profoundly deaf woman requiring the aid of an interpreter from jury service was unlawful discrimination.

The Background

Ms Lyons, the appellant, is profoundly deaf and requires the services of an Australian Sign Language (Auslan) interpreter. When summoned for jury service, she informed the Deputy Registrar that she would require two Auslan interpreters.

The Deputy Registrar excluded the appellant from jury service as there was no provision in the Jury Act 1995 (Qld) (the Jury Act) for an interpreter to take an oath of secrecy and it was not possible to have a person in the jury room during the jury’s deliberations other than the jurors and a bailiff.

The Deputy Registrar further determined that the appellant was excluded by reason of section 4(3)(l) of the Jury Act, which states that persons not eligible for jury service include “a person who has a physical or mental disability that makes the person incapable of effectively performing the functions of a juror”.

The Decision at Trial

The appellant filed a complaint with the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) claiming that the exclusion constituted both direct and indirect discrimination pursuant to the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 (Qld) (AD Act). The complaint was dismissed on the basis that the appellant’s exclusion related to issues posed by the interpreter being present in the jury room, not because she required an interpreter because of her disability.

The appellant’s appeal to the QCAT Appeal Tribunal was dismissed, with the Appeal Tribunal holding that a deaf person who requires an Auslan interpreter in order to communicate in the course of deliberations in the jury room is incapable of effectively performing the functions of a juror. The Court of Appeal agreed with this conclusion and refused leave to appeal. The appellant appealed by special leave from the orders of the Court of Appeal.

The Issues on Appeal

The issue on appeal to the High Court was whether the Deputy Registrar unlawfully discriminated against the appellant by excluding her from a jury panel because she required the services of an Auslan interpreter.

The Decision on Appeal

The appeal was dismissed.

The High Court found that the Deputy Registrar correctly concluded that the Queensland law did not permit an Auslan interpreter to assist the appellant while the jury was deliberating. It followed that the appellant was incapable of effectively performing the functions of a juror. This conclusion made the appellant ineligible for jury service. A person who is not eligible for jury service is not qualified to serve as a juror.

The Deputy Registrar was therefore required under Queensland law to exclude the appellant from the jury panel. The exercise of the Deputy Registrar’s powers in conformity with the command of the Jury Act did not infringe the AD Act’s prohibition on unlawful discrimination of a function or exercise of power under Queensland law.

Implications For You

Under Queensland law juries ought be kept separate and not able to communicate with others, except fellow jurors. This, the court found, was the reason for excluding the appellant from jury service. She was not ‘treated differently’ by reason of her disability (but rather on other grounds). The former is prohibited under the AD Act.

Lyons v State of Queensland [2016] HCA 38