Deaf man can sit on jury, says judge


A HIGH Court Judge has ruled for the first time that a deaf person can sit on a jury in the Central Criminal Court.

Mr Justice Paul Carney yesterday ruled that profoundly deaf teacher Senan Dunne could sit on a trial jury with the aid of a sign language interpreter. He said objections to having a “13th person in the jury room” in the form of a sign language interpreter 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 the Free Legal Advice Centres (Flac), said 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 said with the aid of signers and modern technology, jurors could serve without difficulty. 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 Mr Justice 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 for other cases.

Last month High Court judge Mr Justice Daniel O’Keeffe ruled a deaf person’s ability to serve as a juror should be determined by a trial judge.

Flac welcomed yesterday decision saying 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, it said.

It added that only last week a deaf person, represented by Flac, was asked to leave the jury box in Tullamore Court because a Circuit Court judge ruled that he could not serve.