Interacting with the justice system can be extremely stressful. The processes and places are foreign to most people. For a person with disability, there are extra barriers. Australia is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and must ensure effective access to justice for persons with disabilities on an equal basis with others. Services that provide the right supports are critical to persons with disabilities being able to meaningfully participate in court proceedings.
Deirdre is deaf and was dealing with complex family law proceedings, which posed a risk of her losing care of her children. No Auslan interpreter had been arranged. The court referred Deirdre to Caxton’s duty lawyer service. Covid-19 restrictions limited the delivery of face-to-face services by both Caxton Legal Centre and the courts.
Caxton provided various accommodations to help Deirdre. The duty lawyer communicated with Deirdre via sms message about her matter, and court staff by telephone to discuss ways for the duty lawyer to assist Dierdre. An adjournment was obtained so Caxton could assist Diedre to prepare written court documents.
Deirdre does not own a computer. Via text message and email with Deirdre, Caxton arranged for an Auslan interpreter and video-link appointment. Poor-quality internet connection hampered the appointment. Caxton’s lawyer resorted to typing and writing messages to Deirdre to obtain instructions to prepare her court documents. Caxton staff also worked with fellow community legal centre, Women’s Legal Service, and jointly the agencies supported Deirdre to file her written material.
An Auslan interpreter was arranged for Deirdre’s hearing. The judge understood the complexities and challenges of the situation and adopted a supportive and flexible approach. After several hours of negotiation an arrangement whereby Deirdre retained care of her children was arrived at. The judge commended Caxton’s duty lawyer for their assistance with this complex matter. Without this type of service and supports available to Deirdre, it is doubtful she would have been able to participate in the proceedings and ensure the children were able to remain living with their primary carer.
Under anti-discrimination and human rights law, a person who is deaf or hard of hearing cannot be treated less favourably than a person who is not deaf or hard of hearing in key areas of public life, such as at school, at work and dealing with government departments and agencies (including courts).
For people who communicate in Auslan, an interpreter is often needed to make sure they are not treated less favourably. In many cases, it is possible for a deaf or hard of hearing person to ask the person they wish to communicate with (such as a court, government department, hospital or the police) to supply and pay for the interpreter.
Most government agencies should arrange for an Auslan interpreter to be present at your meetings so you can fully participate.