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Jury Members Can Be Blind

Editor's Note: For further information on this article's subject and the report, see the website for the Law Reform Commission, New South Wales: {http://www.lawlink.nsw.gov.au/lrc}

The national peak advocacy organization for blind and vision-impaired people has thrown its support behind a call for their inclusion on New South Wales juries.

Blind Citizens Australia has backed the NSW Disabilities Commissioner's call to open up juries to vision- and hearing-impaired people.

The Disabilities Commissioner, Graeme Innes, has accused the State Government and Law Reform Commission of shirking their responsibilities.

He says the matter was referred to the Commission more than five years ago, but its report is yet to be released despite going to the Attorney General eight months ago.

"As a blind person myself, who has sat as a head of a tribunal and a hearing commissioner, I see no reason why blind people can't participate in the same way as other citizens," he said.

The National Policy Officer at Blind Citizens Australia, John Power, agrees.

"People who are blind or vision-impaired must be treated equally in our society," he said. "As equal citizens, this includes civic responsibilities, including jury service."

Another person who has welcomed Mr. Innes' push for blind and deaf people to be included on NSW juries is Susan Thompson. Ms. Thompson is the President of the Sydney branch of Blind Citizens Australia, and has been blind since childhood.

She drafted the organization's state policy on opening up juries to vision-impaired people.

"In the course of a number of conventions across the country, each state, including New South Wales, passed a resolution that they believed that blind people should not be disqualified from sitting on juries under the various state laws," she said.

She says being barred from sitting as a jury member makes her feel like less of a citizen.

"It's just sheer stupidity because there isn't a good reason for it."

"Certainly, it's not giving us the equal right aspect, as citizens, to have our rights and perform our responsibilities as citizens."

The Executive Director of the NSW Law Reform Commission, Peter Hennessy, says he understands the report will be made public this week.

He says that Mr. Innes should be satisfied with its recommendations, but he says it is the Government's role to implement them.

He says the report involved complex research, which took a long time to complete.

Reprinted from ABC News, May 9, 2007, with permission of News Online, Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

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