Sign language, translation and rule of law – deaf people`s experiences from encounters with the Norwegian criminal justice system


​The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was ratified in Norway, June 2013. Nordic countries are generally associated with the promotion of human rights as well as disability rights. The Rule of Law Index from the World Justice Project ranks the Nordic countries among the top nations when it comes to high standards of justice (both civil and criminal justice) and rule of law. However, there are also well-known examples of grave miscarriages of justice in cases where disabled people have been involved. These cases address issues of access to justice and questions barriers to effective communication in criminal justice. Taking the situation of deaf people in Norway as a case, this study asks what barriers deaf people face when reporting a crime, being accused of a crime or being a witness in court.

The methodological approach is semi-structured, open-ended interviews with deaf persons, professional sign language interpreters, judges, prosecutors, police officers and lawyers. All the informants have personal experiences from encounters between deaf people and the criminal justice system. This paper discusses this situation in terms of language and communication problems, access to justice, non-discrimination and equal recognition before the law.