When we think of criminal trials, often our sympathies tend to veer toward the victims of crime and/or their families and friends. However, participation in the criminal justice system for other actors can be immensely traumatic as well. This includes those summoned to serve on juries. Over the past several years, there have been many articles discussing the phenomenon of former jurors experiencing post-service trauma. See the list below.
A recent article published by the CBC discusses the impact of a murder trial on a jury foreperson, Mark Farrant, who currently suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In assessing the evidence presented at trial, jurors such as Mr. Farrant are exposed to graphic photos of the crime scene, autopsy photos and even verbal descriptions offered by witnesses (such as medical professionals) about the trauma inflicted. As Mr. Farrant asserts: “those images became very, very much a part of my psyche afterwards."
In Canada, and as discussed recently by my colleague, Dr. Richard Jochelson, in his insightful co-authored blog post on the need for jury studies, s.649 of the Criminal Code prevents post-trial conversations by former jurors about the trial. This includes one’s spouse and those close to them, if for no other reason to serve as an outlet. However, jurors may nevertheless seek counselling services but very well have to pay for such counselling on their own. In Ontario, counselling services may be paid for if ordered by the court. Even with mental health professionals, there are limits on what a juror seeking therapy may be able to provide. For instance, Patrick Baillie, a psychologist (who also holds a LL.B) with Alberta Health Services asserts that:
Under the Criminal Code [a juror is] not allowed to tell me anything related to the deliberations of the jury. She's not allowed to tell me her personal view, therefore, of the evidence or the witnesses or the trial process. Because that could be information that relates back to what was discussed in the jury room.
It is illegal to disclose the deliberation of a jury to anybody. So [a juror] can't tell a spouse and family and friends, she can't tell the people in her usual support system and she can't tell the mental health professionals that she may want to come in contact with down the road.
Juries play an important role in the criminal justice system. Given that they are summoned, where a trial results in their suffering trauma, jurors should not have to pay for their own counselling arising from fulfilling a legal and civic duty. As Farrant posits: “A juror should not have to seek support, should not have to be burdened with an additional enormous burden of trying to get better after something that has impacted them that was their civic duty to perform." In providing comments to the CBC, Alberta Queen’s Bench Justice Earl Wilson has stressed the importance of the government “to take care of those who fulfill a duty of citizenship.” Justice Wilson observed, “It's the least we can do, to make sure that the experience they go through is not something that's going to be left with them in the sense of a negative or overpowering psychological or emotional devastation.”
The need for counselling services becomes obvious as such psychological impacts arising out of the trial may very well affect a juror’s relationships with family, friends, and co-workers once the trial is complete. In addition, it may very well have consequences on their ability to fully function at work and maintain a livelihood. This is compounded by the inability to speak about their experiences as mandated by the Criminal Code. Thus the availability of publicly funded counselling becomes crucial.
In addition to the limited response by Ontario (noted above), other jurisdictions have taken steps to provide some assistance. As of two years ago, Alberta was supposed to have implemented a juror support program. The state of Victoria in Australia has implemented a juror support program which provides free counselling for a limited number of sessions through an external provider that former jurors may contact. According to the Victoria Court Services website, the program employs solution-focused counselling and coaching support provided by qualified and registered psychologists and social workers.
Another solution employed by United States federal district courts with respect to jurors in cases involving serious trauma to victims has been to extend jury service by ninety days after the trial has been completed. This is an administrative measure that permits such jurors to access Employee Assistance Program (EAP) benefits normally allotted to federal employees, but does not require them to do additional jury service. Through the EAP, former jurors are able to access free counselling services on a confidential basis (though it isn’t clear how many sessions they are permitted to have).
Undoubtedly, while not every juror will experience PTSD from their experience in a murder or sexual assault trial, the consequences will nevertheless be harrowing for some and continue onwards if they are not provided with sufficient assistance. The initiatives mentioned above are steps in the right direction. In Canada, more provinces and territories should strongly consider establishing a proper support service for jurors. It is certainly the least we can do for those who have diligently served.
 I had difficulty finding any information online about Alberta’s program other than the reference to it in the CBC article.
Richard Jochelson & Michelle Bertrand, “Canada's Inscrutable Jury Research: Do Canadian Juries Understand Judicial Charges?” (3 October 2016), Robson Crim (blog).
News Articles on Jury Trauma
Andrew Guthrie Ferguson, “The Trauma of Jury Duty”, The Atlantic (17 May 2015).
Paula Reed Ward, “Serving as a juror can be stressful, traumatic”, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (19 June 2011).