Deaf advocate takes discrimination claim to the United Nations

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Tuesday, 30 April 2013 08:59am

Michael Lockrey, a prominent figure in Australian disability advocacy, has petitioned the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities after he and the New South Wales Government failed to reach conciliation over a discrimination complaint.

In February 2012, Lockrey was summoned for jury service in Lismore Court in northern NSW. He wrote to the court and requested live captioning be provided for him during the trial. After much correspondence, Lockrey was informed that captions would not be provided and that he had been excused from jury service because he is Deaf.

Finding this in breach of the Disability Discrimination Act, Lockrey made a complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC). During attempts to conciliate, the NSW Sheriff’s office refused to change its policy and provide captions in courtrooms. The matter ended with the AHRC in November.

 Now, Lockrey is taking his complaint to a higher power: the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This committee monitors the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in countries such as Australia which are signatories. If the committee accepts the petition, the Australian Government would be obliged to ensure that captioning is provided in courtrooms. The Australian Government would get to decide whether this would be required in all states and territories, or just NSW.

“I am motivated by what I believe constitutes a blatant breach of my human rights that prevents me from contributing fully to the society I am – and  want to be – part  of,” said Lockrey.

Captioning is proven to enhance comprehension for everyone, not just those who are Deaf or hearing impaired, and live captioning, which could easily be provided in courtrooms across Australia, would have benefits beyond the jury.  Providing captions would help Deaf and hearing impaired people on trial receive fair treatment. Given that nine out of ten indigenous prisoners in the Northern Territory are hearing impaired, providing access services in courts is all the more vital.

If the UN committee accepts Lockrey’s petition, the Australian Government has six months to provide a response.

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