State to pay costs in failed bilingual jury case

Wednesday 28 May 2014 16.21
All five Supreme Court judges agreed that the case raised important constitutional issues
All five Supreme Court judges agreed that the case raised important constitutional issues

The State has been ordered to pay the entire costs of a man's unsuccessful action to have his trial on assault charges heard by a bilingual jury.

Peadar Ó Maicín, a native Irish speaker, who lived in Rosmuc in Co Galway for most of his life but now lives in Lower Salthill, wanted his trial heard by a jury drawn from a specially designated area of south Connemara where most people speak Irish.

The High Court rejected his case and in February, the Supreme Court upheld that decision by a majority of four to one.

This morning, all five Supreme Court judges agreed that the case raised important constitutional issues relating to balancing language rights against the duty of the State to prosecute crimes before representative juries.   

The court granted an application by Mr Ó Maicín for his costs in the High and Supreme Courts against the State.

Mr Ó Maicín was charged with two offences alleged to have been committed in the Connemara Gaeltacht in May 2008.  

He was charged with assault causing harm to Martin Whelan, also from Connemara, and unlawfully producing a broken whiskey bottle during a fight.

The Supreme Court found that Mr Ó Maicín had 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.   

But four of the five judges ruled the right to conduct official business fully in Irish was not absolute.  

Mr Justice Frank Clarke found in the February judgment that 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".