Tories, NDP, push bill that would improve mental-health support for jurors

The Alberta MP said the jury-secrecy rule prevents jurors from seeking help

Federal opposition parties have joined forces to support a private member’s bill aimed at improving mental-health support for jurors traumatized by the evidence they see during trials.

Conservative deputy justice critic Michael Cooper says people who sit through gruesome trials and who suffer stress, anxiety and even post-traumatic stress disorder should be able to seek help from mental-health professionals.

The Alberta MP said the jury-secrecy rule prohibits jurors from talking about jury deliberations forever, preventing them from seeking help.

“Frankly it’s simply unacceptable that jurors who are doing nothing more than their civic duty are not able to get the full mental-health support they require to help cope with their mental health issues arising from their civic duty, and that needs to change,” Cooper said.

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Mark Farrant, who became an advocate for jurors after he developed post-traumatic stress disorder during a long murder trial, said he experienced the challenge of getting health care firsthand.

“It’s one thing to see evidence in movies and in fiction and read about it, but when it’s real it’s a completely different experience. You can’t turn away from it,” said Farrant. “And a juror is silent. You can’t raise your hand and say you’ve had enough, ‘I want to take a break’. You can’t talk. So you have to sit there and ingest all of this detail.”

Many jurors go through the system unscathed, he said, but not all. And he said this bill removes the impediment to jurors recieving post-trial support.

Cooper’s bill is also supported by the New Democrats and he said Liberal MPs have also said they’ll support it. Cooper is seeking support from the government.

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Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said in August that she would consider changes to the very law Cooper wants to change with his private member’s bill.

Wilson said in a letter to fellow Liberal MP Anthony Housefather, chairman of the House of Commons justice committee, that she will find ways to better assist jurors.

The justice committee in May on recommended the government amend Section 649 of the Criminal Code, which requires jurors to keep their deliberations to themselves for life.

In her letter, Wilson-Raybould acknowledges the obstacles the section poses both for jurors and academic researchers who want to talk to people who have served on juries.

Janice Dickson, The Canadian Press

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