Man loses Supreme Court case for bilingual jury

Thursday 27 February 2014 21.52
A native Irish speaker has lost a Supreme Court bid to have a case heard by a bilingual jury
A native Irish speaker has lost a Supreme Court bid to have a case heard by a bilingual jury

A native Irish speaker who is due to go on trial for assault has lost his Supreme Court bid to have his case heard by a bilingual jury.

Peadar Ó Maicín  from Rosmuc in Connemara, but who is now living in Salthill, Co Galway, is charged with producing a broken whiskey bottle and assaulting another man in Leitir Móir in 2008.

He is due to go on trial at Galway Circuit Criminal Court.

The alleged victim of the offences is also a native Irish speaker.

Mr Ó Maicín had claimed he was entitled to present his defence in Irish and to have his case heard by a jury who were sufficiently competent in Irish to hear the case without the assistance of a translator.

He lost his case in the High Court and appealed to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court ruled against him by a four to one majority.

In his judgment, Mr Justice Frank Clarke said that Mr Ó Maicín enjoyed a constitutional right to conduct official business fully in Irish. 

But he said that right was not absolute and may have to give way to other considerations.

These included the significant number of people - even in Gaeltacht areas - who would not have sufficient competence in Irish as well as the need to respect the rights of others to use English as an official language and the constitutional imperative that juries be truly representative.

The judge said that in current conditions and even in Gaeltacht areas, it would not be possible to empanel a jury with sufficient competence to conduct an important criminal trial in Irish without a translator, without excluding a significant number of people from the entitlement to sit on the jury.

He said that conferring on Mr Ó Maicín the rights he asserted would result in the exclusion of a significant number of people from the jury panel. 

He said this would be constitutionally impermissible and would render such a jury in breach of the constitutional requirement of representativeness.

He said if the underlying conditions were to change, then the balance between Mr Ó Maicín's language rights and the constitutional imperative might change.

However, he said for the present he was not satisfied that Mr Ó Maicín was entitled to the type of jury he sought.

In a dissenting judgment, Mr Justice Adrian Hardiman made a declaration that Mr Ó Maicín was entitled to be tried before a jury who would understand evidence given in Irish directly, without the assistance of an interpreter.

In his judgment, Mr Justice Hardiman said the State and organs of Government had cast the entire burden of promoting the use of the Irish language on successive generations of school children.

He said apart from that, the actions of the State in relation to the Irish language had been uniformly minimalist and grudging.   

The judge also said he did not believe there was 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.

Mr Justice Hardiman also pointed out that there were no legislative provisions requiring a person summoned to serve as a juror to have or demonstrate competence in either of the official languages of the State - Irish or English.  

He said this was an extraordinary state of affairs and required urgent legislative attention.