A rape trial in which the alleged victim, defendant and witnesses were all deaf has made history, because the proceedings conducted in sign language were filmed.
The trial, at Snaresbrook Crown Court earlier this month, marks a ‘big step forward’ in ensuring access to justice for deaf people, a criminal defence solicitor acting in the case told the Gazette.
The case arose from a historical allegation of rape and sexual assault that the alleged victim, a deaf woman, claimed to have suffered some 25 years ago. Two men from the deaf community were acquitted of the charges.
During the proceedings, a video crew recorded the signers – people translating the spoken word into sign language – so that, should a dispute over meaning arise, evidence could quickly be reviewed and the uncertainty resolved. Courts in previous cases involving deaf people had refused access to film crews.
Liz Sargeant of London firm Needham Poulier, acting for one of the defendants, said: ‘Complications arose from lexical differences between signing and the spoken word. For example, the words ‘assault’ and ‘translation’ are too abstract to be translated into sign language. This makes any written transcript of the proceedings almost worthless.
‘Happily, the judge in the case, HHJ Wilkinson, allowed a film crew into the court. This was a far-sighted decision because courts in previous cases had refused to allow filming. It was a big step forward for disability rights and, we hope, all cases regarding deaf people’s evidence will be recorded in future.’
Sargeant understands that Ministry of Justice and Home Office representatives are to meet to discuss the implications of the case.