Judiciary committed to equal access to court services for all

The following is issued on behalf of the Judiciary:

     In response to media enquiries on the accessibility aids and services provided by the Judiciary for people with disabilities, including persons who are deaf and hard of hearing (DHoH), in court proceedings, a spokesman for the Judiciary said the following today (November 16):
     To ensure due administration of justice, the Judiciary has all along been committed to making court proceedings equally accessible to all people, including those with disabilities.
     Taking into account the needs of DHoH persons in judicial proceedings, the Judiciary has put in place various measures to ensure that the judicial process is fair to them.
Existing services and assistance for people with disabilities

     In light of the varying needs and different communication methods or support requirements amongst people with disabilities, the Judiciary has been providing multiple accommodation aids and services for litigants, witnesses and legal practitioners in court proceedings provided that they will not compromise the due administration of justice. For DHoH persons, these include:
  • Infra-red headphones and audio-guide-like receivers in court hearings;
  • Court-appointed professional sign language interpreters for court hearings. Special directions from the presiding Judges and Judicial Officers (JJOs) on an individual case basis may be sought for the sign language interpreters to meet or communicate with the hearing impaired parties/witnesses before a court hearing to ensure effective communication;
  • Masks with large transparent windows available for use by court staff where necessary. Exemption of the mask requirement for court proceedings to facilitate lip reading may be allowed by presiding JJOs upon request; and
  • Audio typing services in real time at court hearings for those who do not know sign language but are able to understand written/typed communication.

     Any specific arrangements to be made in a court proceeding or hearing is a matter of court and case management for the presiding JJOs to decide. All along, individual presiding JJOs may give directions on a case-by-case basis on the support and assistance to be provided to facilitate the participation of court users with disabilities, including DHoH persons, in court proceedings. To facilitate the court's consideration, relevant court users may raise such requests for aids or assistance by completing the relevant application form for submission to the relevant registry as soon as he/she knows the date and court venue, and preferably in no less than two weeks before the date of court attendance if possible. The support staff will provide assistance to relevant court users upon request.
     A consolidated guide together with the application form for court assistance for people with different forms of disabilities, including DHoH persons, in court proceedings/hearings have been uploaded to the Judiciary website at www.judiciary.hk/en/other_information/access_disability.html.
Sign language interpretation
     Sign language interpretation service is provided to a witness or a party who has such a need in any court proceedings or part of any proceedings. For this purpose, the Judiciary Administration maintains a pool of sign language interpreters who may be engaged to provide interpretation services on a freelance basis as and when necessary. These freelance interpreters are not employees of the Judiciary. At present, there are 15 sign language interpreters in the pool maintained by the Judiciary Administration upon the intake of additional sign language interpreters in late 2021. Over the past five years, the average number of proceedings requiring sign language interpretation services was small, at around 100 per annum. The Judiciary will continue to monitor the situation and as necessary take in new interpreters who meet the relevant requirements from time to time to ensure the sustainability of the sign language interpretation services.
     To ensure the quality of interpretation services in court proceedings, the Judiciary requires sign language interpreters to be engaged to meet certain requirements, including passing sign language proficiency tests and interviews, and possessing considerable experience in providing court interpretation services. Moreover, the Judiciary Administration has put in place a monitoring mechanism to ensure impartiality and no conflict of interest on the part of the individual sign interpreters engaged for the hearing and the quality of services provided by the freelance interpreters to the courts.
     Any complaints against the freelance sign language interpreters engaged by the Judiciary Administration will be dealt with in accordance with the established procedures of the Judiciary Administration, and appropriate management actions will be taken on substantiated complaints. In addition, any allegations or concerns about interpretation problems in the court proceedings may be brought up to the court, which will handle them in accordance with the law to ensure that a fair trial takes place.
     The Hong Kong Judicial Institute is responsible for organising judicial training programmes for JJOs at all levels of courts for meeting their professional and operational needs. Judicial training activities on equal opportunities and rights of persons with disabilities, have been organised for and attended by JJOs from time to time. Reference materials on accommodation measures and support services in court proceedings or hearings for court users with disabilities have been made available to JJOs.
     The Judiciary is planning to enhance training for its support staff on the handling of court cases involving DHoH persons. Talks or seminars on subjects relating to equal opportunities (including communication with DHoH persons) will also be arranged where appropriate.
     The Judiciary will continually review the accessibility aids and services provided for people with disabilities including DHoH people in light of their needs and concerns, with a view to introducing timely enhancements where appropriate. Reference will be made to the relevant guidelines and recommendations made by the Equal Opportunities Commission in this regard.

Ends/Wednesday, November 16, 2022
Issued at HKT 20:12