Judge rules deaf man can sit on jury

29 November 2010

For the first time ever, a High Court Judge has ruled that a deaf person can sit on a jury in the Central Criminal Court. Judge Paul Carney today (Monday) ruled that profoundly deaf man Senan Dunne could sit on a trial jury with the aid of a sign language interpreter. Mr Dunne is a teacher in St. Joseph's School for the Deaf in Dublin and a former producer with 'Hands On', RTE 1's programme for deaf viewers.

Judge Carney said that objections to having a "13th person in the jury room" could be met by the signer taking an oath of confidentiality and the jury foreman ensuring that she or he was confined to translating what went on.

Solicitor for Mr Dunne, Michael Farrell of FLAC (the Free Legal Advice Centres), said that while there had been a blanket ban on deaf jurors, the law had changed in 2008. The issue now was whether it was practical for deaf persons to serve. He argued that with the aid of signers and modern technology, jurors could serve without difficulty. Mr Farrell said that juries could not be representative of the general public if deaf people were excluded.

Counsel for the DPP, Mary Ellen Ring SC expressed concern about the confidentiality of jury discussions but Judge Carney ruled that Mr Dunne should be allowed to serve. Lawyers for the defendant then challenged Mr Dunne under a rule that either side in a trial can challenge up to seven jurors without having to give reasons. Mr Dunne had to stand down but remains on the jury panel.

Only last week a deaf person, represented by FLAC, was asked to leave the jury box in Tullamore Court because a Circuit Court Judge had ruled that he could not serve. FLAC welcomed the decision saying that the exclusion of deaf persons from juries was symbolic of the fact that they are not treated equally in Irish society. This ruling was an important step towards ending that discrimination.

Earlier this year FLAC represented deaf Galway woman Joan Clarke who successfully challenged a decision to exclude her from jury service even though she had not asked to be excluded.

Monday 29 November 2010. Dublin./ Ends.

Editors' notes:
1. FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) is an independent human rights organisation which works to promote equal access to justice for all. It carries out research and conducts litigation on behalf of marginalised and vulnerable people to establish equal access to the courts and systems of justice. It runs a lo-call telephone information line giving general legal information and supports a network of evening FLAC clinics around Ireland.

2. On 14 July 2010, Judge Daniel O'Keeffe in the High Court ruled in that the Galway county Registrar was wrong to exclude Joan Clarke, a working mother of two young children who is fluent in lip reading and sign language, from jury service. Ms. Clarke 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. As part of the orders made in the case, the court decided in October 2010 that the question of deciding who should be on a jury was a question for the judge, not the court registrar. Ms Clarke was represented by Free Legal Advice Centres. You can read a briefing document on the Clarke case at