A jury has made “legal history” in including the first deaf person to serve on an Irish jury during a trial, a judge has said.
Judge Sinéad Ní Chúlacháin said the inclusion of a deaf man among the 12 jurors selected for a trial at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court was “historic”.
The trial ultimately did not continue after the accused pleaded guilty last Friday to a charge of criminal damage.
When discharging the jury, Judge Ní Chúlacháin told them: “You over and above any other jury are a historic jury in the jurisdiction.”
It was only during her lifetime that laws preventing seven of the jurors selected serving were lifted, she noted. Until then, six could not have served because of being women and the seventh due to being deaf.
The ban on women jurors was lifted some decades ago but it was only very recently that the view that deaf people were incapable of serving on juries had changed, the judge noted.
The women, as was the case with the deaf man, were clearly “well capable” of serving and no difficulty had been presented, she said.
“I hope that in years to come the idea that a deaf person couldn’t be a juror will be considered as odd as the idea that a woman can’t.”
Thanking all of the jurors for serving, she said the duty to serve on a jury “is one of the core duties of citizens in any democracy and the criminal justice system could not function without you”.
“You are a historic jury and I wanted to mark that because it is important to say that you have made a little bit of legal history even if you didn’t get to deliberate on a verdict, and I want to thank you for coming and being part of the process.”
On being told the deaf juror wished to know if he could place a note on Facebook to mark the occasion, without giving any details of the case, the judge said, because it is “a little bit of legal history”, it would be “appropriate and allowable for him to do that”.
Permitting the juror to do that could not infringe upon the confidentiality of the process or anything that was said in the jury room, she considered. The jury, she noted, had not got to the stage of deliberating on a verdict.
In October 2010, the High Court granted orders and declarations effectively removing the “blanket ban” restraining deaf persons serving on juries. The challenge to the ban was taken by Joan Clarke, Athenry Road, Loughrea, Co Galway, who is deaf, in proceedings supported by the Free Legal Advice Centres.
The deaf juror was sworn in last week, the same week the Dáil passed a Bill officially recognising the Irish Sign Language (ISL) as a language of the State. The Bill is expected to be signed into law shortly by President Michael D Higgins.