Is sign language an officially recognized language in the courts?


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In detail


34.3% of respondents replied Yes, and 32.2% affirmed sign language is either only recognised in some courts, people with hearing impairment have no right to translators, or there are no translators provided by the state. The underlying problems beneath the lack of access to justice for people with disability were pointed out in several key arguments:

  • The lack of availability of interpreters in courts is generally due to a lack of training opportunities in the field of justice or disability, and to costs of interpretation which depend either on the courts of justices’ financial resources or on the individual’s own financial capacity to afford them.
  • Where sign language is legally recognised, most countries claim only very few public bodies provide assistance. They claim it is not common practise and there no measures in place to ensure adequate sign language interpretation assistance in courts. Instead, informal translation services are engaged.
  • Countries from the 32.2% which answered Yes, with qualifications indicated that a key reason for no implementation mechanisms of sign language in courts lies in the understanding of sign language as a communication tool rather than as a language itself, thereby hindering actions to improve access to justice for people with disability
  • Several developing countries revealed that conflicts of languages within the country prevent a consistent framework for recognising and implementing sign language in courts of justice

“While the sign system is recognized as a right in judicial proceedings are not always available sign language interpreter. It is alleged that this person who provides this service has a high cost per hour […]” (Eduardo Lizano, technical advisor, Fecodis, member of DPI, Costa Rica)

“[…]There is also not enough statistics if police officers use it if a person has been detained/questioned. Sometimes friend or family is used for interpreting which is incorrect because they are not sworn and taught to interpret the “legal words” and the quality of interpretation is not ensured. So regulation/legislation and practice may not be the same thing everywhere as is determined by the Chancellor of Justice.” (Sven Kõllamets, specialist, Tallinn University of Technology, Estonia).

“The language is officially recognized in Tanzanian courts but deaf has to pay for the translation fee, the state has no budget to pay translators.’’ (Francis Gugu, Acting Executive Director, SHIVYAWATA, member of DPI)

CRPD Article

Article 13- Access to justice

“1. States Parties shall ensure effective access to justice for persons with disabilities on an equal basis with others, including through the provision of procedural and age-appropriate accommodations, in order to facilitate their effective role as direct and indirect participants, including as witnesses, in all legal proceedings, including at investigative and other preliminary stages.

2. In order to help to ensure effective access to justice for persons with disabilities, States Parties shall promote appropriate training for those working in the field of administration of justice, including police and prison staff.”

(UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities)