Jury instructions: comparing hearing and deaf jurors’ comprehension via direct or mediated communication


  • Jemina Napier Heriot-Watt University
  • David Spencer Australian Catholic University




comprehension, courtroom discourse, jury instructions, jury service, deaf people, Auslan, signed language interpreting


This project investigated the capacity of deaf people using Australian Sign Language (Auslan) to serve as jurors. Following on from a pilot study with 6 deaf and 6 hearing people acting as ‘jurors’ (see Napier & Spencer, 2007, 2008), this project replicated the method of the earlier study, and compared the level of comprehension of 30 deaf jurors to a control group of 30 non-deaf (‘hearing’) jurors from three different major cities in Australia; in order to assess the ability for deaf jurors to comprehend jury instructions when mediated via a signed language interpreter, as compared to comprehension of hearing jurors receiving the instructions directly in spoken English. The methodology involved combining quantitative and qualitative approaches in the experimental design of a comprehension test with post-test interviews. The results showed that the pilot study findings were replicated, and that deaf and hearing people equally misunderstood content of jury instructions. The findings may have significant impact in pioneering law reform in Australia and internationally, by providing evidence for the fact that deaf people are not disadvantaged at having to access information via sign language interpreters, and therefore receiving mediated, as opposed to direct, access to courtroom discourse.

Author Biographies

Jemina Napier, Heriot-Watt University

Jemina Napier is Professor and Chair of Intercultural Communication in the Department of Languages and Intercultural Studies at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland, where she is also Head of Department. She is also an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Linguistics at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. She is a member of the World Federation of the Deaf Expert Group on Accessibility and her main area of research concentrates on sign language interpreting.

David Spencer, Australian Catholic University

Professor David Spencer was appointed Academic Director at the Australian Catholic University in October 2012 then Deputy Provost on 5 January 2015. Previously he was Associate Dean (Academic) of the Faculty of Business, Economics and Law at La Trobe University. Prior to that, he had been Associate Dean (Teaching & Learning) for the Faculty of Law at Macquarie University. David’s main areas of research include Contract Law, Dispute Resolution and Higher Education Theory and Practice.



How to Cite

Napier, J., & Spencer, D. (2017). Jury instructions: comparing hearing and deaf jurors’ comprehension via direct or mediated communication. International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law, 24(1), 1–29. https://doi.org/10.1558/ijsll.30878