Barriers to justice: Violations of the rights of deaf and hard-of-hearing people in the South African justice system

Journal Article


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Journal Title

South African Journal on Human Rights

Journal ISSN
Volume Title

Juta Law


University of Cape Town

This article discusses the violation of rights of disabled persons in the South African justice system. Its particular focus is the infringement of rights of deaf and hard-of- hearing people as a result of communication barriers in police stations and courts. While deaf and hard-of-hearing people comprise a small percentage of disabled individuals who come into contact with the justice system, the violations that occur are endemic and symptomatic of a disregard by justice officials of the rights and needs not only of deaf and hard-of-hearing persons, but of all disabled people. It is argued that a scheme comprising three components can guarantee the rights of deaf and hard-of- hearing people in South Africa's justice system. The first and most fundamental component is a recognition by justice officials that the right of the deaf and hard-of- hearing to be treated fairly in the justice system is constitutionally required. The second component requires amended and augmented legislative provisions to flesh out the content of the constitutional rights. The third component is that practical guidelines should be disseminated among justice officials to direct their day-to-day interactions with deaf and hard-of-hearing people. Such a scheme can prevent future violations of rights of the disabled and enhance the goal of equality for all South Africa's citizens.