On 11 December the British Deaf Association (BDA NI) and School of SSESW academic Bronagh Byrne (centre), a leading Deaf researcher, released a ground-breaking report on the barriers Deaf people face when trying to access justice in Northern Ireland. The report follows a two year pilot project based in Northern Ireland, managed by BDA NI, in collaboration with SSESW and Syracuse University College of Law and Rowan University (both USA). The project involved interviews with judges, solicitors, barristers, prison officers and police officers. The research has informed training, provided in conjunction with the project’s Deaf Advisory Group, for over 120 legal professionals (including 36 judges) across Northern Ireland. This international project was made possible through the Disability Research on Independent Living and Learning (DRILL) programme and the National Lottery Community Fund.
Article 13 United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities states that disabled people have the right to effectively access justice. Deaf people are denied access to justice for many reasons. Sign language users face significant language barriers when adequate access is not provided. The report, and supporting resources, investigates these barriers and makes a series of practical recommendations.
Majella McAteer (BDA NI) commented: ‘This is a hugely significant piece of work. While some barriers to the justice system in Northern Ireland had previously been identified, until now there has been a lack of comprehensive research on this issue. This is the first step, and we are now faced with the challenge of implementing these recommendations.’
A member of the Deaf Advisory Group added: ‘As a Deaf person, it has been thrilling to be involved in the Deaf Advisory Group for this project, and having an input in the co-production of this report over the last two years ensures it will impact on the lives of Deaf people. I believe the report will raise awareness and ultimately lead to better service for all Deaf people in Northern Ireland.’
Bronagh Byrne (Co-Director of the Disability Research Network in the School of SSESW) said: ‘Our research shows that significant communication barriers remain for Deaf people trying to effectively access justice, silencing their experience of crime. This forces them into positions of vulnerability in situations where rights should be foremost, e.g. reporting serious crime, individual arrest, trial or imprisonment. It is highly concerning that, given the current emphasis on citizenship and civic duty, sign language users are prevented from being full and equal citizens through their exclusion from jury service. This project has created space for discussion across the justice system on these important issues and we look forward to addressing these through the project recommendations.’
The report and resources are available at https://bda.org.uk/accesstojustice-bsl/
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