Approximately one month ago CBC published a story about Mark Farrant, a Toronto man who had served as a juror on a murder trial in 2014 and was left traumatized by the experience of gruesome details that he was required to minutely examine. Two days ago the Attorney General of Ontario, Yasir Naqvi, announced funding for a new Juror Support Program, presumably a response to Mr. Farrant’s complaints.
Mr. Farrant raised several problems in the way the role of the juror has been treated by the justice system in Ontario. First of all is the issue that all other roles in the courtroom function have access to outside counselling services. Judges and lawyers have access to professional counselling through their membership to the Law Society of Upper Canada. There are a number of support services that victims of crime can be referred to. Even the accused in trials for more minor criminal offences have access to diversion and harm reduction programs such as Springboard in Toronto that seek rehabilitative justice over retribution and deterrence by finding work placements for those facing potential jail time and providing for structured meetings where their concerns can be addressed by social workers.
However, apart from a few academic articles, there has been very little awareness of the prevalence of juror stress. The only way for jurors to receive psychological support through the courts has been the order of the trial judge. This is a clearly problematic solution due the potential for arbitrary approval and denial of applications for care, not to mention the lack of expertise judges have in the symptoms of PTSD and other stress-related disorders. Jurors are arguably the most arbitrary actors in the courtroom drama and unlike lawyers and judges have no experience to prepare them for the stress of a criminal trial. Mr. Farrant pointed out the pressure that arises from the jury’s duty to secrecy of the facts of a trial while it is in session. The inability to communicate an incredibly stressful event to those around you can build up tension inside and have a harmful psychological impact if not addressed. Mr. Farrant described the PTSD symptoms he suffered as a result of this experience such as avoided crowded places and suffering nervous and emotional breakdowns several times.
In response to his complaint the announcement from the Ministry of the Attorney General is a start. Mr. Haqvi announced this week the Juror Support Program for which the ministry plans to budget $30,000 – $55,000 per year to develop a confidential phone line. Jurors can call this line, explain their symptoms and be referred to professional counsellors who are paid for by the government. The program will deploy in January 2017. Considering the burden that jurors are asked to take on gratuitously on society’s behalf, this seems like the least the Province can give back in return.
This blog post was written by a CCLA-PBSC RightsWatch student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCLA or PBSC.