MPs call for better compensation, mental health support for jurors
Tuesday, the House Justice and Human Rights Committee tabled its report “Improving Support for Jurors in Canada” in the House of Commons.
Published Tuesday, May 22, 2018 5:28PM EDT
OTTAWA -- A committee of MPs is unanimously calling on Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to champion new supports for jurors, recommending a new approach to how jurists are treated by the justice system post-trial.
On Tuesday, the House Justice and Human Rights Committee tabled its report "Improving Support for Jurors in Canada" in the House of Commons.
Canadians who get selected for jury duty can face difficulties afterwards, and the committee argues that, to date, these former jurists haven’t been properly informed or compensated for their experiences.
Depending on the nature of the case, the experience of being a jurist can include being subjected to graphic or traumatic content, being isolated from family and friends, and having to weigh the impacts of a verdict.
As the committee heard, this stress can result in former jurists developing mental health issues like post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.
"One of I think the most anguishing things for all of us that we heard was stories from jurors about when they left the trial, and they had to go seek their own mental health counselling, and that they had trouble integrating into their normal daily lives," said committee chair Liberal MP Anthony Housefather during a press conference outlining the proposed new supports.
"They had trouble at work, they had trouble relating to their spouse and their children and they couldn’t even communicate with them about what had happened in deliberations which is often the cause of the stress," he said.
The report is unique in at least a couple ways: it is the first-ever parliamentary report on jurors, and its 11 recommendations have unanimous support among the parties on the committee.
After spending a dozen meetings studying the issue, including hearing from nearly 40 witnesses, the committee’s recommendations include:
- providing jurors an information package about the role of jurists, the impacts sitting through some trials can have, and how to get help;
- providing free counselling sessions without a time limit on jurists accessing them;
- amending the Criminal Code to allow former jurists to discuss deliberations with a mental health professional afterwards;
- offering jurists a minimum $120 a day in compensation throughout the trial and additional compensation for related costs like daycare;
- minimalize interactions between jurists and others involved in an ongoing trial, both in and around the courthouse; and,
- funding programs to raise awareness within the court system about jurists’ mental health needs, including the federal government chipping in for the upfront costs to implement these recommendations.
As well, the committee is calling on Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to respond to their call for action, and share the recommendations with the provinces and territories at the next meeting of federal and provincial justice ministers, as the majority of changes fall under provincial and territorial jurisdiction.
Already, Alberta, Ontario, Saskatchewan, and Yukon have started moving ahead with programs to support jurors, but the committee wants to see national standards.
Currently, the amount jurors are compensated across Canada differs from province to province, along with the kinds of costs jurists are reimbursed for like travel, food, and child care.
Housefather said that now the work turns to convincing the provinces that these steps should be taken.
The one recommendation that will require federal legislation is amending the Criminal Code to change the secrecy rule, letting former jurists discuss deliberations with mental health experts after the trial concludes. Housefather characterized this as a “relatively simple” change that he’s hopeful the all-party approval will help bring to fruition.
"We all came together and we agree with it because we are absolutely convinced this is the right thing to do," said Conservative MP and committee member Rob Nicholson.