Meet Sarah Sunny, India's Only Practising Deaf Lawyer

On September 22, 2023, Sarah Sunny became India's first practising deaf lawyer to make her case heard by the Supreme Court. The case was related to the rights of persons with disabilities.

Sarah Sunny

On September 22, 2023, Sarah Sunny became India's first practising deaf lawyer to make her case heard by the Supreme Court. The case was related to the rights of persons with disabilities. "It took us so long for us to make this happen. This should have happened long ago," Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud remarked after being amazed by the speed with which the interpreter conveyed Sarah’s arguments. 

Hailing from Kottayam, Kerala, Sarah is a deaf advocate who is based out of Bengaluru. She received her Bachelor's degree in law from St. Joseph's college in Bengaluru, and was part of the first batch that graduated from the institution. She is now a practising lawyer and an active member of Human Rights Law Network.

The day the historical feat was achieved, Advocate on Record (AoR) Sanchita Ain, appearing for Sarah Sunny, asked the bench headed by Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud to allow sign language interpreter Saurav Roy Chowdhury to be present when the court was in session so that Sarah would be able to comprehend the proceedings. Throughout the day in the courtroom, the interpreter, by way of sign language, explained the proceedings to Sarah. The speed of the hand and finger movement with which interpreter Saurav conveyed Sarah the proceedings of the court was praised by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta. The CJI agreed with the views of Mehta.

Soon after the hearing, Sanchita quoted Sarah as saying, "With the help of interpretation, I can learn how to argue with confidence." Sanchita also mentioned that two interpreters are required to interpret the court proceedings because one can explain via signs for only an hour. An interpreter charges about Rs 1000 for one hour, she said. 

About Sarah Sunny

Sarah chose the legal profession not just because of her interest in the field but also to set a path forward for others who had hearing loss and urge them to take the challenge. Without an interpreter, judges couldn't understand what Sarah wanted to convey when she was representing cases. She had to write what she wanted to say and show it to the court.

She actively contributes to the betterment of the deaf community by being part of the Advocacy of National Association of Deaf. She previously interned with the Centre for Law and Policy Research, a not-for-profit trust through which she practiced constitutional and disability law. Sarah’s determination is one step forward in breaking down barriers of inclusivity within the judiciary. 

While Sarah appeared with her own interpreter on September 22, since then, the Supreme Court has directed its registry to appoint an interpreter for Sarah for appearing before the top court to argue her case. The Court shall bear the expenses for the interpreter in accordance with the same directions. The top court has till now never appointed an interpreter at court expense for a lawyer.

CJI Chandrachud, who is sensitive towards providing accessibility to justice delivery system to the differently-abled, when he took his oath of office in November last year, had said, “My work, not words, will speak.”

In line with his commitment, the CJI constituted a Supreme Court committee on accessibility last year with the aim of ensuring accessibility and understanding the hardships faced by specially-abled persons. Several infrastructural changes have been carried out in the top court premises to enhance accessibility for the specially-abled persons.