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EDITORIAL: A little good news for jurors

['"Scales of Justice" statue representing the Roman goddess of justice personifying moral force. (Photo via wikimedia commons)']
['"Scales of Justice" statue representing the Roman goddess of justice personifying moral force. (Photo via wikimedia commons)']

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.”

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.

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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