Lawyer fights for a fair deal for the deaf

A LEEDS solicitor is single-handedly trying to set up a national register of “deaf aware” lawyers in a bid to combat disadvantage in the system.

Jessica Penrose, of Harrison Bundy & Co, is to launch the Deaf Legal Access Group at a conference she is organising in Leeds on 10 June. She claimed that justice frequently passed deaf people by.

“Within the deaf community it has always been recognised there is a problem gain- ing legal services,” said Penrose, who has worked in a solicitor's office for three-and-a-half years.

“Some people have sign language as their first language and so have difficulty reading and writing, some have difficulty at police stations and in court. There is often very little understanding of the needs of deaf people among law firms, but there is a fair amount of interest.

“I wrote to the Law Society about this and received about 25 letters from all around the country expressing interest.”

The group has been backed by a Durham University team that has been researching a project called Access to Justice for Deaf People. The team videoed proceedings at Dundee Sheriff Court, and observed Old Bailey cases involving deaf people. Research fellow Maureen Reed will be the key speaker at the conference.

Leeds City Council's deaf equality team and the Leeds Sign Language Interpreting Service are also offering support for the group.

A spell of evening classes in sign language first led Penrose to investigate the problems deaf people have with the law.

“One thing lawyers can do to help is install a minicom text phone so that deaf people can be understood when they ring up,” Penrose explained.