A lit­tle good news for ju­rors

The Western Star - - EDITORIAL -

The Canadian jus­tice sys­tem asked a lot of the av­er­age Cana­di­ans that make up ju­ries.

Ju­rors are asked to give their time to the court process, in some prov­inces for far less than they would make work­ing their reg­u­lar jobs. They’re asked to de­cide on the guilt or in­no­cence of peo­ple who may be fac­ing a near life­time in jail, and they’re not given much op­tion about whether they will serve.

Get a jury sum­mons, and un­less a prospec­tive juror can ar­gue their way out of it on the ba­sis of per­sonal hard­ship, that per­son can end up in court for days if not weeks.

While al­leged crim­i­nals are sup­posed to face a jury of their peers, those “peers” may ex­pe­ri­ence things so hor­ri­ble that they can barely be imagined.

Not only can ju­ries see pho­to­graphs and video of grue­some crime scenes, and hear equally grue­some tes­ti­mony or po­lice in­ter­views, they’re sup­posed to keep parts of that ex­pe­ri­ence to them­selves, no mat­ter how much it af­fects them. The con­cept seems ridiculous.

Sec­tion 649 of the Crim­i­nal Code spells it out: “Ev­ery mem­ber of a jury … who … dis­closes any in­for­ma­tion re­lat­ing to the pro­ceed­ings of the jury when it was ab­sent from the court­room that was not sub­se­quently dis­closed in open court is guilty of an of­fence pun­ish­able on sum­mary con­vic­tion.”

That, in fact, means that a juror try­ing to han­dle the im­pact of what they had ex­pe­ri­enced in court would not be able to com­pletely dis­cuss the case with some­one pro­vid­ing them with coun­selling.

It’s some­thing that’s likely to change: the fed­eral Stand­ing Com­mit­tee on Jus­tice and Hu­man Rights is­sued a re­port last May rec­om­mend­ing a series of changes to the way jury mem­bers are treated, in­clud­ing pro­vid­ing paid coun­selling to ju­rors who need help af­ter tri­als end, and proper com­pen­sa­tion for time spent in court.

Mean­while, Con­ser­va­tive MP Michael Cooper launched a pri­vate mem­ber’s bill to at least en­sure that ju­rors can talk

The change would add a clause that says the sec­tion, “does not ap­ply in respect of the dis­clo­sure of in­for­ma­tion for the pur­poses of … any med­i­cal or psy­chi­atric treat­ment or any ther­apy or coun­selling that a per­son … re­ceives from a health care pro­fes­sional af­ter the com­ple­tion of the trial in re­la­tion to health issues aris­ing out of or re­lated to the per­son’s ser­vice at the trial as a juror.” The bill, C-147, is ex­pected to make its way through the Se­nate now and be­come law be­fore the end of the cur­rent par­lia­men­tary ses­sion. It’s a start, and a good one.

But it could be a lot more.

The jus­tice sys­tem has to fully rec­og­nize what it is ask­ing of or­di­nary Cana­di­ans who are asked to sit in judg­ment on those accused of some­time un­speak­ably hor­ri­ble crimes.

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