Court finds in favour of deaf woman


THE HIGH Court has overturned a decision of the Galway County Registrar “excusing” a deaf mother-of-two from jury service on grounds of her deafness after finding there is no “absolute” ban on deaf persons serving on juries.

However, the court also found against allowing a sign language interpreter in a jury room while the jury considers its verdict.

The case was brought by Joan Clarke, Ashlawn, Athenry Road, Loughrea, Co Galway, who had not sought to be excused from jury service and wished to serve on a jury.

She challenged the excusing of her by the registrar under Section 9 of the Juries Act in judicial review proceedings supported by the Free Legal Advice Centres and heard in 2008.

She claimed that the registrar’s decision was discriminatory, breached the Constitution and European Convention on Human Rights and she was entitled to serve on a jury via a sign language interpreter.

After yesterday’s judgment by Mr Justice Daniel O’Keeffe, Michael Farrell, a solicitor with Flac, said the decision made “an important dent” in the ban on deaf jurors which was “offensive and hurtful” to deaf people and had “no place in a modern and inclusive society”.

“It was unfortunate the judge did not go on to accept that sign language interpreters could be used in a jury room without interfering with the jury,” he said.

The Juries Act 1976 lists people who are ineligible for jury service. Section 6, under the heading “incapable persons”, includes persons “who because of insufficient capacity to read, deafness or other permanent infirmity [are] unfit to serve on a jury”.

Section 9 provides for excusing from service of persons specified under the Act as “ineligible” and who inform the county registrar of their “wish to be excused”.

In his reserved judgment, Mr Justice O’Keeffe found, once a summons is issued to a person for jury service, there is no provision or power for a county registrar to determine the issue of their “fitness” to serve.

Ineligibility for service only arises where deafness and unfitness to serve on a jury is “established” and that was a matter for the court, he ruled.

He ruled there is no “absolute” ban on jury service for deaf persons and on that basis quashed the registrar’s decision of May 2006 excusing Ms Clarke.

The judge also said there is no provision in Article 38 of the Constitution, which provides for trial by jury, for a sign language interpreter to be present in the jury room to assist persons who are profoundly deaf.

Such a person would breach the absolute confidentiality of those deliberations and the manner in which discussions and deliberations take place which is an integral part of trial by jury, the judge said.