A DEAF man facing trial on theft charges has lost a High Court challenge to being denied a separate communication assistant for legal consultations.
Jonathan Sweeney issued proceedings against the Department for Justice over its refusal to provide a different Registered Intermediary (RI) at meetings with his defence team. But judges rejected claims that the decision amounted to discrimination and breached his right to a fair trial.
Lord Justice Weatherup said: "(We) are satisfied that the provision of a common RI at consultation and trial need not impact on confidentiality or legal professional privilege." Mr Sweeney, whose age and address were not disclosed, is awaiting arraignment at Antrim Crown Court on charges of theft, false imprisonment and common assault.
He is described as suffering from significant and severe communicative difficulties due to being deaf and effectively unable to speak. Under the RI scheme victims, witnesses and defendants with communication problems are provided with specialist, accredited assistance in court cases.
In other parts of the UK, it is by no means the rule deaf get ANY support in a court despite the 'law'. Let alone two alternatives !
In one case two clients deaf with differing communication needs, left them initially with no access for either for 40% of the time, and the court challenged the fact one deaf person wanted stenographic not sign support why couldn't both use a sign terp ? The case descended into chaos when the court pointed out:
(1) Deaf signers are NOT entitled to ask for an interpreter who may be known to them, regardless if that preference facilitated understanding better, it was considered bias..
(2) Your interpreter is 'Invisible' to the law, they cannot be referred to in any witness situation, not even to clarify if the client is following them properly. The law as it stands assumes if the client has request a sign interpreter then it accepts it can follow proceedings. the court during proceedings cannot direct any questions TO the interpreter for the record. They attend on the basis they are NOT part of the case in any way. If they are asked to attend as a witness they can legally refuse.
The case in question also meant a disagreement with a local authority ruling, where a deaf client used a sign language interpreter to follow was not allowed to call the terp as a witness to the proceedings they facilitated, it meant basically there can never be a way of proving the deaf client did follow or understand, because the Interpreter would never guarantee their client understood everything, it would be reliant on memory alone, inadmissible evidence that put the client's interpreter at risk of having to prove conclusively their own effectiveness. (Deaf should be addressing this !).
Other issues that were exposed, was the inability of the court to find communication local support the client was unaware of. The deaf world was too small, it meant 'bussing in' interpreters from outside the area entirely, but this was complicated by the fact the signs were different, the terps unknown to the client, and no time for either to acclimatise to each other. The result was 60% an inability to follow the interpreters who, had no legal know how or signs to explain jargon themselves, in court or medical matters etc, you need specialised terps. There were not any dedicated sign language legal terps to obtain, or any way to prove that the client could follow..
It was far worse for the deaf who needed stenographic support, there were none available initially. The cases proceeded regardless and imported stenographic services from 100s of miles away was only available 40% of the time. Both deaf clients lost their cases. Both clients failed to follow proceedings because of how the law worked. The issues exposed the reality deaf had no access to the law.
Indeed even using a terp day to day, to ensure everything is being followed you would need someone neutral to take notes as well so you had back up you could use or refer to, deaf cannot rely on remembering what was said in a meeting a week ago with any certainty, and, they cannot ask their terp to confirm either.. Do you think terps are a help ? when they won't take responsibility for their own professionalism ?