Silence In Court

court transcript

I could barely contain my excitement as I turned up for jury duty and surveyed the array of microphones dotted about the courtroom. The Information for Jurors leaflet sent with my citation had promised hearing loops in all the courtrooms used for jury trials, and I looked forward to effortlessly hearing my name not being called out when fifteen names were selected from the clerk of court’s glass bowl.

My optimism was rather short-lived, however. While court officials were busy trying to ascertain whether the scheduled trial would go ahead, the first job for the assembled jurors-to-be was to witness the Sheriff sentencing a previously convicted Accused. Had the loop system actually been switched on, I might have known what crime he committed and what sentence he got, but perhaps ignorance is bliss when you’re sitting six feet away from a convicted criminal flanked by two burly prison officers.

Once the proceedings were done and we were despatched for a break, I finally plucked up the courage to ask the clerk of court whether the loop was switched on. Reassuringly, she told me that she didn’t know how to switch it on, but that in any case, it would only work during an actual trial whilst the proceedings were being recorded.

Mindful of the police officer to my left and the prison cells below my feet, I decided not to ask what bloody use that was when the bits before the trial were just as important to hear. Especially when my roll-call citation number didn’t have any hard consonants in it for the cookie bite ears to latch on to.

High hearing hopes dashed, I sloped off to the corridor and resigned myself to remaining conspicuously seated in the almost empty front row, for the remainder of my stint in Court X.

4 Responses to “Silence In Court”

  1. 1 F October 19, 2013 at 2:25 pm

    This is could be a really serious problem, I hope you complained loudly and suggest that you write to the court. Personally I have never found the loop system to be effective. And what about profoundly deaf people, are they excluded to be from the jury process?

    • 2 moiradancer October 19, 2013 at 3:33 pm

      Hi Francis, I must say I was very disappointed that all that expensive equipment is sitting there and not being used routinely, and agree that there are serious implications. The court environment is an intimidating one for the layperson at the best of times, and worrying that you’ve missed your name being called, etc makes it even more stressful. Because I’ve never used a loop before, I wasn’t sure whether it was my aids or their system at fault initially, but certainly nobody in the court was using microphones. I was in three separate courtrooms, and couldn’t detect a sound from a mic in any of them.

      By the end of it, I felt that if I didn’t formally complain, then anyone else coming to court expecting a loop would find exactly the same scenario, so I asked for a complaint form…will keep you posted on their reply.

  2. 3 Beth Gobble November 26, 2013 at 2:45 pm

    I knew, when I asked the clerk of court if they had a loop system and he responded with “what’s that”, that I was in trouble. I explained that I was hard of hearing (showing him my hearing aids) and that I was willing to try but could not predict if I was going to be able to understand what was being said until I was actually in the courtroom, He assured me that there were microphones and that hopefully, all would be fine.

    A short while after we were all seated, the bailiff asked if I could hear and I shook my head indicating no. He spoke to the judge, then instructed the lawyers to speak directly into the microphones. This helped a bit but did not last very long as the lawyers soon proceeded to lean away from the microphones – they were focused on their task and not on my problem. (This is human nature & I do not fault them for it.)

    After several people were called to the jury box and interviewed, a break was called and I decided to speak to the bailiff. I told him this was not working and he instructed me to wait while he spoke to the judge. I was then called before the judge (like a common criminal) and quizzed. I explained that I could not understand anything the people in the jury box had said as they were not using microphones and were facing a different direction; I could not understand the lawyers when they leaned back from their microphones and that it was going to be a problem for me. His response was “Well you can hear me!” I responded, “not when you leaned back from your microphone.” He then asked if I would have a problem raising my hand when I didn’t hear something and I said YES I would. He asked why and I was so flustered by then all I could think to say was that it would be embarrassing. I don’t really know exactly what he said after that but he did not excuse me nor was ANY assistive device offered. I returned to the waiting room with the others and tried to keep my composure.

    Thankfully, I was not called to be interviewed and we were released shortly thereafter. I was so fearful that had I been called I would have been forced to ask the judge if he had ever heard of the ADA and what sort of accommodations was the court prepared to make for me.

    I wish I had done lots of things differently. I should have inquired about what sort of assistive technology would be available immediately upon receiving my letter to appear. I should have been more prepared to make suggestions to the judge/court as to what I would need to fulfill my civic duties. (Although I shouldn’t have to but apparently someone must educate them.) I should have told the judge that I did not want to raise my hand because the whole thing would eventually become all about me and I doubted the people involved (who were paying the lawyers) would want that. I should have had the conversation I plan to have with the clerk of court in the near future (with an Audiologist in tow) explaining the difference between “hearing” and “understanding”. How the inability to hear certain frequencies makes it impossible to comprehend some speech due to the fact that vowels and consonants are on those frequencies.

    I have worn hearing aids since I was in my mid-thirties and am only 49 now so I’m assuming I was not perceived as “elderly” and therefore not expected to have this problem. I was not using my disability to get of jury duty. I know the people working in the courts have probably become jaded by opportunists but there should be a healthy limit to their skepticism. God forbid you be an innocent person accused of something in there! No wonder people don’t like to participate if we are all going to be treated with such utter disrespect. They have NO idea how the inconvenience of jury duty pales in comparison to the endless aggravations that come along with the loss of my hearing. I’d trade any day.

    (Sorry for taking up so much space but even now, it is still upsetting.)

    • 4 moiradancer November 27, 2013 at 2:19 pm

      No need to apologise for taking up space, Beth, your court experience is a total horror story on every front, no wonder you were upset. Appearing in court is intimidating, and is one place where you really don’t want to stand out from the crowd. To have been publicly hauled up to give the judge a belated deaf awareness session, when you were the one who was being wronged, is inexcusable. His infuriating “well, you can hear me…” response totally sums up how difficult it is for people to understand how hearing loss impacts on everyday (and not so everyday) situations. Grrrrrr.

      Like you, I wish I had queried them in advance about the loop system, I made the mistake of believing what it said in their leaflet about just switching to T-mode on the day (readers beware, text/phone them up in advance!) and totally sympathise with your frustration at people quickly forgetting to speak into the mics. Makes you wonder about the quality and legal usefulness of court recordings made by mics pointing at the back of computers, etc, quite apart from anything else.

      I hope you manage to get a meeting with the clerk of court to explain how you you were made to feel, your description here sums it up most eloquently and is a very good starting point for a meeting. Thank you for taking the time and trouble to write about it. It inspires me to pursue a more specific response to my own complaint, I got so exasperated with blatantly being fobbed off without even an apology, that I just left it…

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