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Upper age limit for jury service to be abolished

Resource type: News

The Irish Times |

Original Source

by Elaine Edwards

The Government has been urged to remove all discriminatory elements of the law governing who can serve on a jury after it announced that the upper age limit for jury service will be abolished.

The decision was announced on Tuesday by Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Dermot Ahern.

Flac ( Free Legal Advice Centres), which campaigns for equal access to the justice system, welcomed the move to repeal the ban on older jurors but said discrimination still existed against people with certain disabilities.

Solicitor Michael Farrell of Flac said he had been taking a case on behalf of a person over 70 in the High Court challenging the exclusion of older people from juries.

However, those with reading difficulties, those suffering from blindness or deafness or other ‘permanent infirmity’ are still deemed ‘incapable’ and ‘unfit’ to serve on a jury, Mr Farrell said.

Anyone suffering from a mental illness or disability who regularly attends their doctor for treatment is also considered incapable in law.

Mr Farrell said Flac will take a case in the High Court at the end of this month challenging the ban on deaf people serving on juries.

Already in the United States, restrictions on deaf or blind persons serving on juries have been removed under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“We hope that the Government will now take this opportunity to remove the other exclusions that bar those who are deaf or who live with other disabilities from jury service. This ban prevents some groups from fully participating in Irish society,” he said.

The advocacy group for older people Age Action said the removal of the upper age limit for jury service was an important decision for older people and a victory for common sense.

The charity had lobbied for amendments to existing legislation which barred anyone aged 70 or over from serving on a jury.

Age Action member Mark Kennedy (71), from Galway city, who was involved in lobbying politicians after he was barred from jury service by the legislation, said the Government’s decision will allow older people continue to play a full role in society.

“This is a great success for older people,” he said.

Mr Kennedy said the right to vote and serving on a jury when called to do so were among the most important responsibilities of a citizen.

He said it was wrong that a person’s age has previously been used to restrict one of these responsibilities.

Age Action said there are currently 468,000 people in the Republic of Ireland aged over 65 11 per cent of the population.

By lifting the ban, Ireland is following in the footsteps of many other common law jurisdictions such as New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland in Australia, New Zealand and Saskatchewan, Canada.

The new provision abolishing the current references to 70 years will mean persons over 65 may continue to serve on juries if they wish but also that they may be excused if they so choose.

© 2008
The Irish Times

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Age Action, FLAC, Free Legal Advice Centres