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Saturday 20 September 2014

Man fails in bid to have bi-lingual jury for assault case

Published 27/02/2014 | 17:39

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A MAN has failed in an attempt to have a bi-lingual jury hear his trial on assault charges without an interpreter.

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Peadar Ó Maicín wanted the jury to be drawn from a specially designated area of Conamara, where most people speak Irish.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court, by a four-to-one majority, dismissed his appeal against a High Court decision that he was not entitled to have his case heard and decided by a judge and bi-lingual jury without assistance of a translator.

The dissenting judge,  Adrian Hardiman, said the fact there were no laws requiring a juror to be competent in either Irish or English was "an extraordinary state of affairs" requiring "urgent legislative action".

He described the State's actions in promoting Irish as "uniformly minimalist and grudging".

He also did not believe there is any other country in the world "in which a citizen would not be entitled to conduct his business before a court in the national and first official language, and to be understood directly by such court in that language."

All five judges agreed the case of Mr Ó Maicín, a native Irish speaker who lived in Rosmuc, Co Galway, most of his life but now lives in Lower Salthill, Galway, raised important constitutional issues involving balancing language rights against the duty of the State to prosecute crimes before representative juries.

Mr Ó Maicín is charged with assault causing harm to a man in south Conamara on May 28, 2008, and with unlawfully producing a broken whiskey bottle during a fight.

The State opposed his application for a bi-lingual jury.

It argued that even if it was possible to provide a jury who could all understand the case in Irish without an interpreter, which the State denied, there would have to be a test of competence in the Irish language which was a legal impossibility due to the need for random jury selection.

In reserved judgments yesterday, the majority court noted Mr Ó Maicín has a constitutional right to conduct official business fully in Irish and was entitled to have his trial conducted in Irish and heard by a jury aided by an interpreter.

The right to conduct official business fully in Irish was not absolute, four of the five judges found.

In some circumstances, because significant numbers of people even in Gaeltacht areas would not be sufficiently competent in Irish, that right must give way to the need to respect the rights of others to use English as an official language and the competing constitutional imperative that juries be "truly representative", Mr Justice Frank Clarke said.

As of now, even in Gaeltacht areas, it had not been established it was possible to empanel a jury with sufficient competence in Irish to hear an important criminal trial without aid of a translator without at the same time excluding a significant number of otherwise qualified persons from their entitlement to sit on that jury, he said.

In separate concurring judgments, Mr Justice John MacMenamin and Mr Justice Iarfhlaith O'Neill also found against Mr Ó Maicín.

Mr Justice O'Neill said the proposal to select a jury from a specially redrawn jury district of Conamara would involve exclusions of up to 20 per cent of people who would otherwise be entitled to serve as jurors.

Mr Justice Donal O'Donnell, in his agreeing judgment, said It was a cause of regret the defence of this appeal relied on the fact the national language is not the vernacular language of all the people.  However, the diverse nature of the population was also "an undeniable fact" and the Constitution mandated that juries be representative of the entire community, he said.

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