WA woman 'first deaf Australian to participate in jury duty'

Drisana Levitzke-Gray. (Supplied)

The deaf community hopes more Australian Auslan users will be able to participate in the jury process after a WA woman became the first deaf Australian to get through the summons and selection phase.

A Perth woman has become the first deaf Australian to participate in jury service.

Drisana Levitzke-Gray was among hundreds randomly selected for jury service in late 2013.

Ms Levitzke-Gray, an Auslan user, attended the Perth District Court for selection on January 14, alongside 43 other potential jurors.

Her ballot was not selected at the next stage, but her progress to that point has been hailed as a landmark in the deaf community.

Ms Levitzke-Gray told SBS the experience had been momentous.

"This is a massive step forward for the deaf community, not only for Perth and WA, but especially for Australia and internationally too, as USA and New Zealand are some of only a handful of countries that allow deaf people to serve on juries," she said. 

"I am extremely hopeful that my experience and success will now pave the way for an increase in deaf people being accepted to complete their civil duty."

Deaf Society of NSW acting CEO Sheena Walters told SBS Ms Levitzke-Gray had brought the issue further into the public domain.

"I think it's creating good awareness and it's a good opportunity to make the issue public," she said.

"There has been advocacy work nationally to change the policies surrounding deaf people serving on juries."

In the eyes of the law

Deaf Australians are usually exempt from jury selection and the Western Australian Association of the Deaf (WAAD) said Ms Levitzke-Gray was the first person to have got this far.

The exemption hinges on the courts' view of an interpreter as a "13th person," which could negatively impact proceedings in the deliberation room.

Ms Levitzke-Gray told SBS the idea of a "13th person" was a misconception.

"There is no research-based evidence to suggest that having a deaf person and interpreter present in the deliberation room would negatively impact proceedings," she said. "In fact that is why the ARC has funded a research project to run a mock trial in July this year, so they can examine this issue closely."

Deaf people have reported complaints of discrimination in Queensland and New South Wales, including a case against the state government of Queensland, which is now under appeal.

A Macquarie University study into whether deaf people should be able to serve as jurors in Australia found that the United States was leading the way in terms of access to deaf people and interpreters.

The study found that in Australia, "the rights of the victim and the defendant overrule the right not to be discriminated against."

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