I have spent the last 20 years working with people from all walks of life to improve their mental health and reach their goals. In this time I have also become an advocate for mental healthcare for jurors. I have seen first hand how traumatic criminal trials can be and I know, that without adequate support, jury members can experience lasting trauma. I want people to understand not only why mental healthcare for jurors is necessary, but also how the current system operates.
The Current System
Until January 2017, the responsibility to seek mental health support was on the juror. There was no mental healthcare available to jurors through the public system. This means that if a juror wanted to seek therapy following a trial they would take on all the costs as well as the responsibility of finding a provider. While judges do have the ability to order a juror to obtain counselling, these orders are incredibly rare.
In January 2017, the government of Ontario introduced the Juror Support Program. The purpose of this initiative is to provide free and confidential professional counselling to jurors. The program is made available to jurors following the completion of their duty on a criminal or civil trial, or a Coroner’s inquest. The program is provided through an exclusive contract with Morneau Shepell, a large EAP (employee assistance program).
Why Is Support Necessary?
The evidence presented to jurors, especially in a criminal trial, can be very disturbing. These proceedings take several days to many months and the constant exposure to this material can cause secondary trauma. This can lead to difficulties in different facets of life including work, home life, and relationships. Some people can experience PTSD, nightmares, flashbacks, sleep disturbances, and unusual eating habits. Jurors may also isolate themselves, withdraw from activities, and may even question their own sense of safety and security. One of the biggest pressures can be the responsibility of determining if someone is guilty or not guilty.
Trials are often long and drawn out, which forces jurors to miss a significant amount of work. This can cause added stress about what it will be like when they do get back to work. Jurors often return to a backlog of work and this alone can cause severe stress. The adjustment back to work after a long trial can be extremely difficult.
The Burden of Silence
Since jurors are ordered to not discuss the case with anyone while sitting on the jury, the issues can be compounded. The requirement of complete discretion from the jurors, removes any outlet for jurors to release how this is impacting them. They are required to keep everything about the trial to themselves. This adds to challenges the jurors may face during and after the trial.
In addition to not being able to speak about the trial, jurors are instructed to avoid any form of information about the case. This means restricting themselves from any form of media including social media. This is an added level of isolation that is incredibly difficult. But it is more than just isolation, serving on a jury often requires a complete overhaul of their day to day life for the duration of the trial.
How CBT Can Help
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can be very beneficial for jurors following the trial. It can help them process their experience and adjust any negative thinking that the trial has triggered. Overall, it can help jury members to develop a more balanced and healthy perspective. Additionally, it can help with stress, trauma, nightmares, and flashbacks.
The Ideal Process
In an ideal world, jurors would be able to speak with a professional during and after the trial. Unfortunately, therapy during the trial may compromise the case and could potentially cause a mistrial. The professional would need to ensure that they are not swaying the juror in anyway with respect to their decision in the trial. For a juror to speak with a professional during the trial would be risky. If however, there are concrete guidelines in place about what the juror can speak about in therapy then I believe it should be offered during the trial. These guidelines would need to specify that the juror could only discuss the trial’s impact on them personally. This will help them to process their thoughts and feelings as they fulfill their civic duty.
There are also restrictions that must be placed on jurors seeking therapy following the trial. Most importantly, the jurors are forbidden from discussing how they came to their decision.
Court staff, defence lawyers, Crown Attorneys, Police, Fire, Paramedics and interpretors, should also seek some mental health support as they are exposed just the same as jurors. It’s a far reaching impact, in which services need to be available, accessible, and employers need to support and to encourage their employees to attend.