Opportunity should be taken to remove all discrimination from Juries Act: FLAC

14 May 2008

FLAC welcomes a government proposal to allow people aged over 70 to serve on juries as a positive and constructive move, according to Senior Solicitor Michael Farrell. FLAC has been taking a case on behalf of a person over 70 in the High Court challenging the exclusion. Commenting on Minister Dermot Ahern's announcement yesterday that the state plans to repeal the ban on older jurors, Mr. Farrell said that the proposal was government recognition that there should be no discrimination on grounds of age.

However, those with reading difficulties, those suffering from blindness or deafness or other "permanent infirmity" are still deemed "incapable" and "unfit" to serve on a jury. Anyone suffering from a mental illness or disability who regularly attends their doctor for treatment is also considered incapable in law. FLAC, the non-governmental agency that seeks equal access to justice for all, has previously highlighted the discrimination that arises as a result of 32 year-old legislation.

FLAC will be taking a case in the High Court at the end of this month challenging the ban on deaf people serving on juries. Already in the United States, restrictions on deaf or blind persons serving on juries have been removed under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"We hope that the government will now take this opportunity to remove the other exclusions that bar those who are deaf or who live with other disabilities from jury service. This ban prevents some groups from fully participating in Irish society," Mr Farrell said.

Background information:

The law (Juries Act 1976) currently provides that citizens aged between 18 and 70 years are qualified and liable to serve as a juror. However, people aged between 65 and 70 can be excused from jury service as of right, while those aged over 70 are completely banned from serving. The new provision removes the upward limit and means that persons over 65 may continue to serve on juries if they wish but also that they may be excused if they so choose. The ban on certain other groups continues, however, such as deaf people, blind people and, potentially, people taking anti-depressant medication.

Section 7 of the Juries Act 1976 provides that "[t]he persons specified in Part I of the First Schedule shall be ineligible for jury service." Part 1 of the First Schedule includes a list of those who are not eligible. It includes those working in the courts, prison officers and Gardaí and also includes "incapable persons" who are described as:

"A person who because of insufficient capacity to read, deafness or other permanent infirmity is unfit to serve on a jury.

A person who suffers or has suffered from mental illness or mental disability and on account of that condition either --
( a ) is resident in a hospital or other similar institution, or
( b ) regularly attends for treatment by a medical practitioner."