Report Shows Barriers To Justice For Deaf Community

A groundbreaking report has found that deaf people in Northern Ireland still face significant barriers to accessing justice.

The study by Queen's University Belfast and the British Deaf Association Northern Ireland (BDA NI) identified communication issues and lack of access to interpreters across legal settings as some of the main obstacles.

It's widely accepted that deaf people can be denied justice for many reasons, with sign language users facing significant barriers to having effective means to seek justice.

Researchers have now published a report on the stumbling blocks faced by the deaf community of Northern Ireland when it comes to navigating the criminal justice system. It follows a two year pilot project into the issue.

Dr Bronagh Byrne, from the School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work at Queen's and lead researcher on the project, commented: "Our research shows that significant communication barriers remain; most notably, access to and payment of interpreters across legal settings, and knowledge of what and how supports should be put in place."

The findings suggest that deaf people's access to the justice system is ad hoc and not well supported, and that current local provisions fall short of what is required in Article 13 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
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Dr Byrne continued: "These barriers contribute to the silencing of Deaf people's experience of crime in whatever form, as well as their experiences of administrative and civil law matters, and ultimately prohibit effective access to justice. At worst, it forces Deaf people into positions of significant vulnerability in situations where rights should be most at the fore; for example, in the reporting of serious crime, individual arrest, trial, or imprisonment.

"It is further highly concerning that in the context of 21st century citizenship and emphasis on civic duty, that sign language users are being prevented from being full citizens on an equal basis with others through their exclusion from jury service."

A series of practical recommendations also emerged in the report, full details of which are available here.

A member of the Deaf Advisory Group said: "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 2 years ensures it will impact on the lives of Deaf people. I believe the event and the report will raise awareness and ultimately lead to better service for all Deaf people in Northern Ireland."

Majella McAteer, from BDA NI added: "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."

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