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April 6, 2004

Law Professor discusses blind/deaf jury proposition

From: ABC Online - Australia - Apr 6, 2004

The World Today - Tuesday, 6 April , 2004 12:22:00

Reporter: Nick Grimm TANYA NOLAN: Ron McCallum is the Dean of Faculty of Law at University of Sydney, and he is also blind.

Professor McCallum has been speaking to Nick Grimm.

NICK GRIMM: Professor Ron McCallum you've got a unique perspective on this discussion paper that the Law Reform Commission has released. What do you see as the arguments for and against, for reforms of this kind?

RON MCCALLUM: Well, the arguments against the reform are really to keep to the status quo, that persons with disabilities are not able to comprehend evidence in a court and are not able to fully deliberate with other jurors. They're arguments with which I do not have much truck.

NICK GRIMM: Why is that? Why do you think there shouldn't be perceived impediments like that?

RON MCCALLUM: Well, in my own life as a handicapped person, often things are perceived as impediments and after discussion, for example, it's shown that they are not.

If you are to ask people in the street, is it an inherent characteristic of law professors that they should be able to read, most people would say yes. I cannot read, both my eyes are prostheses. However, I read my legal material via computer and the internet using synthetic speech.

In relation to blind people listing to evidence, studies clearly show that you determine truth or falsehood not so much in the sliver tongue that people use, but in determining consistencies and inconsistencies in the evidence adduced.

Similarly, my deaf sisters and brothers, who are a part of our disabled family, learn what people say by the use of Auslan and other sign languages.

We have reached a stage where we disabled citizens, many of us hold jobs of significance in this country. We wish to be included and have our rights as citizens by voting at ballot boxes, which we do, and by sitting on juries.

There may be certain circumstances where it may be difficult to place persons with certain disabilities on juries. Maybe there has to be some form of case-by-case evaluation by court officials and judges, but the current blanket refusal for disabled people to sit on juries really belongs to the time of Charles Dickens and the nineteenth century.

NICK GRIMM: Okay, well look, just picking up on that point – what do you think would be those practical considerations that may have to be taken into account?

RON MCCALLUM: There may be some cases, for example, involving blind people where the evidence may be especially visual. It may relate to circumstantial evidence which may be visual. I can't give you a full instance, but that may be one. I think those cases would be rare.

There may be cases involving diagrammatical material, which may not be so easily transmogrified into voice or Braille. But these cases would be exceedingly rare. In the United States, for example, blind people sit on juries, and if they can do so in the United States, I see no reason why they cannot do so here.

NICK GRIMM: Certainly you see no overriding principle, which stands in the way of legal reform of this type?

RON MCCALLUM: No overriding principles, I'm not saying that every disabled person should have a right to sit on every jury trial, but it is time that the blanket prohibition, either by law or by practice, should no longer be part of our judicial system.

TANYA NOLAN: An issue I'm sure will be debated within interest. That was Professor Ron McCallum, the Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Sydney. He was speaking there to our reporter Nick Grimm.

© 2004 Australian Broadcasting Corporation