Yesterdays news contained a piece about a man, aged 101 accused of sexual offences. Both the papers and the broadcasters mentioned that due to his age he was allowed to remain seated outside of the dock. The number of occasions when this would be allowed is few and far between. However either because of the change of location within the Courtroom, or because of the fact that the accused man was of a certain age, the reports also mentioned that he was asked if he wanted access to a hearing loop. The man replied that he did not need the loop as he had recently changed his hearing aid batteries. This exchange, assuming it was reported faithfully betrays two issues.
The first is that Courts should not be using portable loop systems as they are unsuited to an environment where people are on trial, wherever they sit. The issue of asking the Court for help simply creates the impression of frailty and vulnerability that can then be used against those people in our adversarial legal system. There is also a major challenge in terms of what a portable loop system can achieve due to its design, most such products are a complete waste of money and used to simply put a tick in a box, rather than improve the experience for people reliant on Hearing Aids.
The second is that there is a misunderstanding of why loop systems are so important, in courts as in many other places. If the Judge or any of the witnesses or lawyers are quietly spoken, the accused man may not hear what they say due to the acoustics within the court and size of the room. An effective loop in these circumstances is vital, as it ensures that the person concerned can hear the words spoken into every microphone in the room with a clarity that even the best hearing aid will be unable to match, relying on its built in microphone. This account implies that the court room concerned at Birmingham Crown Court does not have a loop system that covers the whole court which is not ideal, but a major factor for the defendant in this case.
This lack of facilities highlights the problems identified by the Public Accounts Committee in Parliament, that our Courts System is under resourced. For an accused person to potentially not hear the words of his accusers or of the defence and prosecution teams could ultimately lead to a mistrial, in fact if not in law.