Deaf woman challenges her exclusion from jury service


A deaf woman has brought a landmark legal action challenging her exclusion from jury service allegedly on grounds of her deafness.

Joan Clarke, a mother of two, claims she is entitled to be facilitated to serve on a jury by means of a sign-language interpreter and the failure to allow her do so earlier this year breaches her rights under the Constitution and European Convention on Human Rights Act.

Ms Clarke says she wanted to perform "this important civic duty" on the same basis as everyone else and was frustrated at not being allowed to. She also feels she is being discriminated against because she is deaf and is being treated as inferior to a hearing person, she says in an affidavit.

She later made contact with the Free Legal Advice Centres in Dublin about the matter and they are representing her in her action.

The case has been brought against the Galway County Registrar, the Courts Service, Ireland and the Attorney General with the Human Rights Commission as a notice party. It was briefly mentioned yesterday before Mr Justice John Quirke, who adjourned it to January to allow the defendants to prepare a response to the claims.

Ms Clarke, a homemaker, Ashlawn, Athenry Road, Loughrea, Co Galway, is seeking in her judicial review proceedings an order quashing the decision of the Galway County Registrar and/or Courts Service of May 15th last purportedly excusing her from jury service, apparently on grounds of her deafness.

She is also seeking declarations that any decision on her eligibility for jury service is for the judicial branch of government to make.

She claims she is entitled to serve as a juror under the Juries Act 1976 but if that Act precludes her from service, then she contends it is both unconstitutional and incompatible with the equality and other provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights Act 2003.

The challenge is the first of its kind to be brought here. Similar challenges have been allowed in the US but rejected in the UK.

Ms Clarke, a former factory worker, has been deaf since birth. She is married, her husband is also deaf and they have two hearing children. She worked in a factory for 19 years until it closed down and she says she has a lot of experience interacting with hearing persons.

She says she is proficient at lip- reading and is fluent in Irish sign language. She is completing a course in Irish sign language leading to a diploma with a view to becoming a sign-language teacher.