New services to make it easier for people who are hard of hearing or have a visual impairment to serve as jurors are being introduced from today in sheriff and High Courts in Scotland.
Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service has developed the measures in response to the recommendations made in the Enabling Jury Service report drawn up last year by a working group chaired by Lord Matthews. This made recommendations on reasonable adjustments and measures SCTS could put in place to enable as many people as possible to serve on juries.
The new services are:
- easy-to-use magnifiers for people with a visual impairment, for use in the courtroom and jury deliberations;
- easy-to use hearing loop units for people who are hard of hearing, for use in the courtroom and jury deliberations;
- dedicated and trained jury liaison officers, who can be contacted by persons with a visual impairment or who are hard of hearing in advance of attending court as a juror. This will allow the needs of the individual to be explored and any suitable adjustments to be considered and implemented, where possible;
- an information sheet in various formats – including a video with British Sign Language and subtitles – available on the SCTS website, aimed at encouraging early contact between the person cited for jury service and the jury liaison officer for that court.
They have been developed in close collaboration with deafscotland and the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), who both contributed to the training of the new jury liaison officers.
Members of the public who have been cited as potential jurors and wish to access the new services can do so by contacting the court to which they have been cited. The jury liaison officer for that court can then arrange for them to visit the court and jury room layout if they wish to consider being a juror, and discuss their specific needs.
The final decision on whether a person can serve as a juror will rest with the judiciary, as necessary. Individuals with sight or hearing impairments can still be excused from jury service, if that is what they prefer.
Launching the new services, Lord Matthews said: "Access to justice is normally talked about in connection with victims, potential litigants and persons accused of crime, but there is more to it than that. Another aspect of it is that people who wish to play a part in the administration of justice by serving on a jury ought to be able to do so. Such service is not only a duty and a privilege but a democratic right.
"For too long, people with certain disabilities have been deprived of that right in a way which would, quite properly, be considered unacceptable in other walks of life. Advances in technology are changing the way courts operate and it is only right that advantage be taken of those to assist people with disabilities to participate in the serious decisions which are at the heart of our criminal justice system. It is heartening, therefore, to note the new services which are being launched. These are, of course, only the first steps on what may be a long journey but that is how every journey starts and I look forward to seeing how things develop."