Belfast Telegraph

Deaf man facing trial loses High Court challenge over DoJ refusing a separate communication assistant for legal consultations

By Alan Erwin

A deaf man facing trial on theft charges has lost a High Court challenge to being denied a separate communication assistant for legal consultations.

Jonathan Sweeney issued proceedings against the Department for Justice over its refusal to provide a different Registered Intermediary (RI) at meetings with his defence team.

But judges rejected claims that the decision amounted to discrimination and breached his right to a fair trial.

Lord Justice Weatherup said: "(We) are satisfied that the provision of a common RI at consultation and trial need not impact on confidentiality or legal professional privilege."

Mr Sweeney, whose age and address were not disclosed, is awaiting arraignment at Antrim Crown Court on charges of theft, false imprisonment and common assault.

He is described as suffering from significant and severe communicative difficulties due to being deaf and effectively unable to speak.

Under the RI scheme victims, witnesses and defendants with communication problems are provided with specialist, accredited assistance in court cases.

Mr Sweeney launched legal action after the Department decided his intermediary should also provide that service for defence consultations.

His legal team wanted a separate RI to ensure those meetings could be conducted confidentially and in private.

It was claimed that no absolute and unqualified assurance could be given that lawyer and client exchanges in the presence of the same intermediary will remain undisclosed.

The Department stressed, however, that RIs are fully aware of the issue of legal privilege.

Dismissing the application for judicial review, accepted its submissions that continuity of service makes it desirable to provide the same representative throughout the criminal justice process.

He added: "We are satisfied that the principle of legal professional privilege would be unaffected by the use of the same RI at consultation with the accused and at trial."

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