Reform urgently needed to remove Jury Service discrimination against Deaf People
3 March 2011
This week's criminal court sittings in Clare have had to be abandoned due to the failure of 215 people to show up for jury service in Ennis. The presiding Circuit Court Judge, Ms Justice Leonie Reynolds commented that "people are not taking seriously their duty to attend jury service".
It is ironic then, says FLAC, the Free Legal Advice Centres, that the State still has not adequately addressed the issue of deaf persons being allowed to serve on juries.
In the last year, FLAC has represented a number of deaf people who wished to fulfil their civic duty of jury service. However, after being initially summonsed for jury service they were then denied the opportunity to do so on account of their need to have an interpreter in the jury room.
Last November, one of the State's top criminal court judges, Mr Justice Paul Carney ruled that a deaf man could serve on a jury. In this instance, Judge Carney remarked that it was unusual to have someone asking to be allowed to serve on a jury instead of asking to be excused. However, the Director of Public Prosecutions said that ruling was not binding and instructed state solicitors to rely on an earlier High Court judgment which continued to exclude deaf people.
FLAC believes that reform is urgently needed to remove the discrimination against deaf people who wish to carry out the important civic duty of jury service. The State's own legal reform body, the Law Reform Commission has stated that the presence of sign language interpreters in the jury room would not affect jury deliberations.
Senior solicitor with FLAC, Michael Farrell commented: "The issue of deaf people serving on juries will not go away because deaf people are no longer willing to be treated as inferior to their hearing counterparts. US courts long ago agreed to let deaf people and blind persons serve on juries and have had no problems since then.
"Serving on a jury is, like voting, one of the duties and privileges of citizenship. It is high time that this country treated deaf and blind persons as full and equal citizens."
1. FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) is an independent human rights organisation which works to promote equal access to justice for all. It runs a lo-call telephone information line giving general legal information and supports a network of evening FLAC clinics around Ireland.
2. FLAC represented a Galway deaf person in a bid to be permitted to serve on a jury. A briefing document outlining the case is available at: http://www.flac.ie/publications/deaf-jurors-clarke-case-briefing-document/