The main purpose of the Bill as I understand it, as the Minister has put it before us, is to deal with a situation in which a particularly heavy burden, in his own words, falls upon certain people who are not exempt from jury service. Despite what the Minister says about not tackling other problems of jury service, I feel he has missed one opportunity which would just about double the people available for jury service, that is, by admitting women to jury service; by amending the Act and ceasing to allow exemption for women.
That opens a wider question. I, personally, would not base my plea for admitting women to jury service simply on the fact that there is a shortage of men for jury service, though that fact seems to have been enough in the case of the admission of married women to the teaching profession. The shortage of teachers has meant that married women who were more or less excluded are now being admitted again. My plea would not be on those grounds. It would not be based upon the ground that women have a right to serve on juries which is not my burden of contention at all, but upon the much more basic right of men, women and young people to be tried by a jury of both men and women. That appears to me to be a far more natural body of opinion than a purely all male jury.
It is not a question of whether women would be more lenient or less lenient with particular types of crimes or offenders. That is not the point. The point is that you would get a far more balanced consensus of opinion from a body of men and women, than you would get from simply a body of women or men. It is far closer in fact to the atmosphere in a family where most judgments and decisions are referred both to the man and to the woman.
I feel that both men and women and also young people have the right to be tried by a mixed jury. It might be the cause of serious disability— and I think frequently has been—for particular offenders, be they men or women, to be tried solely before a jury of men. I do not want to specify and I do not think that it would always follow that women offenders would be either better or worse treated by a jury of women or by a jury of men, but you would have a more balanced judgment from a jury composed of both men and women.
Therefore, it seems to me that in all equity the accused person—and that is what I regard as a more basic thing than anything else—should have the right to have what I contend to be a more balanced jury. The fact that it would also help to solve the problem to which the Minister referred of the particularly heavy burden on men at present called for service would be an additional advantage.
In the Juries Act of 1927 which is being amended in certain of its provisions by this Bill, I find that the qualification for liability for jury service is described as follows in Section 3, subsection (1):
Subject to the provisions of this section, every citizen of the age of twenty-one years or upwards and under the age of sixty-five years who, either in his own name or in a trade name and whether alone or jointly with any other person or persons or as a member of a form or co-partnership, is rated for the relief of the poor in respect of land in a jury district shall, if the total rateable value of all the land in respect of which he is so rated in such jury district equals or exceeds the minimum rating qualifications for such jury district, be qualified and liable to serve as a juror for trial of all or any issues which are for the time being triable with a jury drawn wholly or partly from such jury district, unless he is for the time being disqualified for or exempt from serving as a juror.
That is the first provision: one has to be between 21 and 65 and a ratepayer of a certain minimum rateable holding.
The second subsection, I feel, reads rather oddly:
Subject to the provisions of this section, every male citizen of the age of twenty-one years or upwards and under the age of sixty-five years who is not qualified and liable to serve as a juror by virtue of the foregoing subsection and whose wife is rated for the relief of the poor in respect of land in a jury district shall, if the total rateable value of all the land in respect of which his wife is so rated in such jury district equals or exceeds the minimum rating qualification for such jury district, be qualified and liable to serve as a juror for the trial.
So a man, if he is a ratepayer of a certain category or husband of a ratepayer of a certain category, is liable for jury service, but the wife whose rated holding gives him the right to be called on a jury is not so liable. I find that very odd indeed and I link that with the fact that in Section 2 subsection (1):
The Minister shall by order prescribe for every jury district the rateable value of land which is to be the minimum rating qualification for jurors in that jury district and may by any such order prescribe different rateable values in respect of different classes of land.
I make the double point there: first, in certain circumstances, a man becomes liable for jury service simply by the property qualification of his wife who is not so liable, a very anomalous position which should be removed by such an amending Bill as this; secondly, you have for jury service a property qualification and I would like to question whether that is a wise provision or whether it is based upon sound principles.
The person, apart from the exemptions I mentioned, who is liable for jury service is a male citizen and a ratepayer or the husband of a ratepayer. There is, in other words, a property test to select the owner of certain landed property, of real estate, and I should like to ask the House why does the ownership of property confer upon one the capacity to judge of the credibility of a witness, for instance, or of the authenticity of a fact? Why should we be bound by this concept that if you own property, you are in some way a more satisfactory judge of fact, of character or of credibility than if you do not own property?
It is contended, of course, that if you own property, you become by that fact a more responsible person, a person with a stake in the country and so on, but I regard that as entirely irrelevant to the duties of a member of a jury whose duties are, as I see them, to judge on matters of fact, not of matters of interest. Obviously, a property owner has a certain vested interest in the continuance of certain observances but it is not the function of a jury to act in accordance with this enlightened self-interest but to make decisions as to facts.
I would suggest consequently that jury service should in fact apply, with certain exemptions, to all electors, all those on the electoral roll, men and women over 21 and under 70. I find the age limit of 65 rather odd because for the purposes of the old age pensions, we do not consider a person to have retired from active life until he is 70, but he is not eligible for jury service beyond 65. However, apart from age, which is an unimportant point, it seems to me that all responsible electors—obviously, there would be some exemptions such as those mentioned in the two Schedules of the 1927 Act like idiots, illiterates, and men of certain professions whose absence from those professions might disorganise things—all responsible citizens, all adult citizens who have the right to vote should have, not the right to serve on juries, but the duty. I regard that as a necessary preliminary for the fair trying of every case.
Persons absolutely exempt are referred to in Part I of the First Schedule and Part II refers to people exempt but who are entitled to serve on application and in that category come all women, so that the onus is placed upon the individual woman, if she is a ratepayer, to make application to serve on a jury. Some women have been public-spirited enough to do that and they all have the necessary ratepaying qualifications.
I would suggest that to put an obligation upon women to make this application is doubly unfair. It is unfair to the person who is being tried and unfair to the individual woman. If she is in employment, it could be extremely awkward for her, if she were called for jury service, to have to explain to her employer that she had applied to be put on the jury panel, although she did not have to. That applies to men in the exempted category, teachers, doctors, and so on. If they are employed and have applied to be on the panel, it could be very awkward for them vis-à-vis their employer. Therefore, I regard it as doubly unfair to exclude women not from the right but from the duty to serve on juries.
I believe one of the provisions of the Bill should be a revision of those portions of the 1927 Act which exempt all women merely by reason of the fact that they are women. I feel particularly ashamed of that provision in this country. I am sure the Minister will, in memory, support me here. The very birth of this State was due so very much to the sacrifice of so very many women, who sacrificed without a thought of reward or prominence in position, and so on, and who played an absolutely full and equal part in the whole Republican movement which brought about the existence of this Oireachtas, that I feel ashamed that, not merely in 1927, we did not recognise there is a right to a woman and a man to be tried by a mixed jury, that the woman is a full citizen in the fullest sense of the word, but also that, in 1961, when we are amending the principal Act, we have not yet evolved to the point where we recognise that the accused person, in equity, has the right to be tried by a jury of men and women and we are failing in our duty unless we remove from the principal Act the absurd exemption applied to women simply because they are women.