Court removes ban on deaf people serving as jurors


THE HIGH Court has granted orders and declarations effectively removing the “blanket ban” restraining deaf persons serving on juries.

Yesterday in a follow-up to a judgment delivered earlier this year, Mr Justice Daniel O’Keeffe granted orders and declarations with the effect that a deaf person’s ability to serve as a juror will be determined by a trial judge.

Last July, the judge overturned a May 2006 decision of the Galway County Registrar “excusing” a deaf mother-of-two Joan Clarke from jury service on grounds of her deafness.

The judge ruled there was no “absolute” ban on deaf persons serving on juries and there was no provision or power for a county registrar to determine the issue of their “fitness” to serve. That issue should be determined by the court, he said.

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

The judge also ruled there was 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, he said.

In proceedings supported by the Free Legal Advice Centres (Flac), Ms Clarke, Athenry Road, Loughrea, Co Galway, who wanted to serve on a jury, had challenged the excusing of her by the registrar under section 9 of the Juries Act.

Yesterday, Richard Humphreys SC, for Ms Clarke, said, following the court’s judgment, his client and the State were consenting to a number of declarations and orders including an order quashing the decision excusing Ms Clarke from jury service.

The judge also granted a declaration the registrar acted in excess of his powers in that decision.

It was further agreed the court should make a declaration, due to the absence of a statutory process for determining the fitness of a person who wishes to be a member of jury, the determination of any person’s ability to be a juror, where there is an issue as to their capability, was a matter for the judge hearing the case.

Ms Clarke was also awarded her costs.

Speaking afterwards, Michael Farrell of Flac, welcomed “the end of the blanket ban on deaf jurors”.