Steve Daunt is not happy that our justice system turns people with a disabilty into silent witnesses
I will never serve on a jury.
Some people may think that would be a good thing. Would you want your life in my hands?
However, that’s not the reason I’m debarred. When the call does come, it arrives with a handy information sheet outlining who can and cannot sit on juries. The following line explains everything (for me):
Those who have an insufficient capacity to read, or an enduring impairment such that it is not practicable for them to perform the duties of a juror.
An enduring impairment. Let me translate. My speech impairment would lock me out. As would be a person's hearing or sight impairments. Ignore the fact that we all are intelligent. It counts for nothing. I am my impairment.
That makes me One Angry Man. I would take pride in doing jury service. As I’ve had to turn down the call twice in the last 10 years, it’s obvious there is no appetite to engage in ways to include disabled people within the courts service.
If we flip the coin, how would I fare as a witness? How would anybody with a disability fare? These thoughts struck me as I read about the gross mishandling of a child abuse case involving children in foster care in the South Eastern area.
There are claims that over 40 children with intellectual disabilities were abused by the same foster family. One victim was placed in the same house for TWENTY years before she was moved to a "full-time residential placement".
Another victim, who was non-verbal, was only able to tell professionals about it by miming what happened after she was taken out of the environment. Her tragedy was compounded when she and her family were told that she would not make a "good witness".
Her rights may not be vindicated.
Every time I read about a court case involving a person with a learning disability, I fear that it will go horribly wrong. I fear that all the hard work by caring gardai will be undone by a line of questioning that focuses on the person's disability rather than the person.
No matter how bad the crime, the fear of a 'bad witness' trumps everything.
That must change.
Ironically, the Public Accounts Committee will be the forum where we hear the full details of this case. The HSE stands accused of delaying proper investigations of all that occurred. That may or may not be so. What struck me, was how people were deemed to be good or bad witnesses.
Think about that as politicians attempt to have their day.