Deaf man told to leave jury trial despite historic ruling
Published 26/11/2010 | 05:00
A DEAF man has been ordered not to serve on a jury despite a historic case that lifted the long-standing ban on deaf people serving on juries.
A Circuit Court judge issued an order preventing the deaf father of three from serving as a juror in a criminal trial in Tullamore, Co Offaly.
Damien Owens (34) was told he could not serve because the law did not allow a 13th person -- in this case a sign-language interpreter -- to be present in a jury room during its confidential deliberations.
Mr Owens was asked to leave the jury box earlier this week after the Director of Public Prosecutions objected to his presence on the jury.
"I was mortified, I did not expect to be asked to leave in front of all of those people," said Mr Owens, speaking with the assistance of a sign-language interpreter.
"I was massively disappointed by the court order," added Mr Owens who is a community resource officer with DeafHear.ie.
"I have as much of a right to serve as anyone else. Deaf people are part of the community.
"I believe that interpreters should be allowed to help people like me access the courts and play my part."
Mr Owens's jury ban is the first case to emerge following a landmark case by a deaf woman who raised a High Court action to have a decision to exclude her from jury service set aside.
Joan Clarke, a deaf mother of two from Galway, claimed that the ban was a breach of her rights under the Constitution and the European Convention of Human Rights.
In July, Mr Justice Daniel O'Keeffe overturned a decision of the Galway County Registrar "excusing" Ms Clarke from jury service on grounds of her deafness.
And last month the High Court ruled that there was no absolute ban on deaf persons serving on juries but said that it was up to judges, not county registrars, to decide who was eligible to serve.
On Tuesday Mr Justice Michael White said that while there would be no difficulty with Mr Owens following the evidence in court, the difficulty lay in the confidentiality of the jury room.
Mr Justice White said that the issue of serving on a jury was of the "greatest possible importance", but ordered that Mr Owens could not serve because of the 13th-person rule.
Last night, the Free Legal Advice Centres (FLAC) called on the Government to introduce new laws allowing deaf people to serve on juries with the assistance of sign-language interpreters.
"We regret that the courts are still not accepting that deaf people can serve on juries," said FLAC solicitor Michael Farrell.
FLAC had represented Mr Owens in court and may appeal the order.
"In our view, having an interpreter does not breach the confidentiality of jury deliberations.
"Juries are meant to be representative of the community as a whole and they cannot be representative when people with disabilities are excluded from jury service."