FLAC welcomes decision to quash jury ban on deaf woman

14 July 2010

No blanket exclusion of deaf jurors, but state should go further

FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres), which represented deaf woman Joan Clarke, welcomed the ruling of the High Court today quashing a decision of the Galway County Registrar to "excuse" Ms Clarke from jury service.

The High Court said the County Registrar had no power to make such a decision and Mr Justice O'Keeffe also said there could be no blanket ban on deaf people serving on juries.

Because he had decided to quash the decision to exclude Ms Clarke from the jury, the judge did not go on to deal with Constitutional or European Convention on Human Rights issues connected with the case. However, he did say that in his opinion sign language interpreters could not be allowed into a jury room, thereby excluding deaf persons who rely on sign language interpretation.

FLAC solicitor Michael Farrell said the decision made an important dent in the ban on deaf persons serving on juries which had been in force until now. Such a ban was offensive and hurtful to deaf people and had no place in a modern, inclusive society.

"This ruling should enable deaf people to serve on juries with the assistance of readily available modern technology," said Mr Farrell, adding "it is unfortunate that the judge did not go on to accept that sign language interpreters could be used in a jury room as well without interfering with the deliberations of the jury. Courts all over the United States had been allowing sign language interpreters into jury rooms for years and it had not impaired the standard of jury trials."

The Clarke case has been adjourned until 21 July to allow all sides to consider the judgment and make suggestions as to what happens next.

Mr Farrell said that whatever happened in this case, it was only a matter of time before the State would have to stop treating deaf people as second class citizens and treat them instead as fully equal to hearing people when serving on juries and everywhere else.


Editors' notes:

  1. FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) is an independent human rights organisation dedicated to the realisation of equal access to justice for all. It campaigns through advocacy, strategic litigation and authoritative analysis to contribute to the eradication of social and economic exclusion.
  2. Joan Clarke, a working mother of two young children who is fluent in lip reading and sign language, received a jury summons for Galway Circuit Court in April 2006. She indicated that she wanted to serve on the jury and the Galway Court office arranged interpreters for her but then told her they had been informed that no deaf persons could serve on a jury.
    The County Registrar wrote to her to say that she had been excused from jury service but she had never sought to be excused.
    Ms Clarke issued Judicial Review proceedings in November 2006 and her case was heard in May/June 2008. Judgment was reserved by Mr Justice Dan O'Keeffe and was delivered today (14th July 2010). The case has been adjourned again until 21st July for both sides to consider the judgment and indicate what should happen next.
    Ms Clarke has been represented by FLACfrom the beginning.
  3. You can read a briefing document on the Clarke case online in PDF format.