MPs recommend better pay, more mental health help for jurors
Many suffer psychological problems after hearing gruesome evidence in criminal trials
Jury members should be paid at least $120 a day and be offered comprehensive psychological support, MPs on the justice committee recommend in a new report that has unanimous support from all parties.
After hearing from jurors, mental health care professionals and legal experts, the committee made 11 recommendations to improve care for those who perform their civic duty — even when it costs them financially. Pay and support services for jurors vary greatly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction across the country.
The report recommends a daily allowance of $120 throughout proceedings, with additional compensation to cover associated costs such as child care, travel, parking and meals.
It also recommends holding debriefing sessions and offering mental health programs to jurors after their service ends, without any time limit.
"Jurors should not be disadvantaged financially or psychologically as a result of conducting their civic duty," the report concludes. "Improving juror satisfaction may also encourage more citizens to participate in jury service and increase overall confidence in the justice system."
The report also recommends providing a complete and updated information package to all selected and prospective jurors to advise them of their role and responsibilities, the trial and deliberation process and the potential impact of jury service on mental health.
'Bombardment of horror'
Trials dealing with horrible crimes tend to involve explicit evidence and testimony, including disturbing images. The report describes how such photos and video can haunt jurors, with one former juror describing it as "an unrelenting bombardment of horror."
"My daughter's red finger painting would hurtle me back to the scene of the crime and I would stare transfixed, seemingly out of space and time," the former juror said.
"What I had to watch — those girls being raped and tortured — wasn't just watching evidence; it was sitting in a box where I felt I couldn't do anything to save them. It was excruciating for me."
Health care providers told the committee that jurors can experience nightmares, trouble sleeping, new phobias, outbursts of anger, loss of appetite, a sense of isolation from loved ones, hyper-vigilance, depression, anxiety and substance abuse problems after a trial.
Liberal MP and committee chair Anthony Housefather said Alberta, Ontario, Saskatchewan and Yukon have all started processes to support jurors post-trial. But he said those services should be provided uniformly across Canada.
Other recommended changes include:
- Amending section 649 of the Criminal Code to permit jurors to discuss jury deliberations with designated mental health professionals once the trial is over. Australia makes a similar exception to the rule requiring secrecy.
- Encouraging provinces and territories to take steps to limit interaction between jurors and other participants in proceedings to reduce the potential for intimidation or awkwardness. Initiatives could include special parking spaces and access to a designated 'quiet space' for jurors.
- Encouraging provinces and territories to support training programs to raise awareness among judges, coroners and judicial officials about the potential impact of trials on mental health, so they can better respond to their needs.
The report calls on the federal government to make a one-time, unspecified investment to help provinces establish post-trial support regimes, but Housefather said the overall costs of such programs are relatively low.
"I'm hopeful that, given the very low cost of these recommendations, once people see the meaningful change they'll make in the lives of jurors, that they'll be made," he said.