BSL users becoming Magistrates (or rather lack of)

In England and Wales, 98% of criminal cases are dealt with by the Magistrates Court, and are heard in front of Magistrates.

Traditionally in the UK it has been said that Deaf people cannot serve as Magistrates, Judges or Jurors because interpreters will not be able to convey the full nusances of a court room. However, great strides have been made in recent years, especially after winning the campaign for BSL recognition (although more work needs to be done on this), and various other initiatives.

A Deaf person is in the process of applying to become a Magistrate, and the latest advice given this week by the Department of Constitution Affairs, to the Justices’ appointment team states:

‘The position of people who are deaf serving as magistrates is analogous to that of people who are deaf serving on a jury. Courts do everything they can to accommodate people with a disability and there is a presumption in favour of people with a disability serving as magistrates. The Magistrates Courts Committee will make any adaptations necessary to the court to enable them to carry out the duties of the office, such as induction loop systems, where the adaptations required are reasonable. However, the present law is that a bench of magistrates must reach its decision in the privacy of its own retiring room free from the presence of anyone else except the Justices’ Clerk, who may to be present to give legal advice only. The presence of a person who is not a magistrate in the retiring room can amount to an irregularity upon which a convicted defendant may challenge his or her conviction. For this reason, it is not possible to permit a person who would need assistance from an interpreter in the retiring room to be a magistrate’.

An ongoing argument, where interpretation of primary legislation is literal and does not recognise interpreters. We will keep this matter updated.