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Province announces free counselling for jurors affected by trial

Last Updated May 24, 2018 at 12:18 am PDT

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Summary

New support program will give jurors access to free counselling following trial

Instead of one group debriefing session jurors will be offered four one-on-one counselling sessions

Jury rights advocate says changes will remove barriers from BC's current juror counselling program

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – People dealing with stress and mental health issues brought on by gruesome pictures they saw and heart wrenching testimony they heard while serving as a juror will soon get more assistance after jury duty.

The province has announced a new juror support program that will offer jurors four one-on-one sessions with a counsellor. Currently, jurors are limited to one group debriefing session at the end of a trial only if it’s requested by at least six of them.

Attorney General David Eby says the program was inspired by a letter written to him by Mark Farrant, a jury rights advocate who developed PTSD after serving as a juror in a 2014 Toronto murder trial.

“He pointed out to me that British Columbia could do much more to support jurors, and he was right,” says Eby in a news release.

Farrant calls BC’s current counselling program complex and convoluted, adding the new program will remove barriers.

“Transparent, universal accesses is one of the key things I was advocating for,” he says “So a juror shouldn’t have to look too far for help and it should be there when they need it.”

A legal requirement you can’t opt-out of, Farrant says jury duty can be a difficult experience for some.

“What we’ve heard from jurors across the country is that there are some gaps in the system. So a lot of jurors have said ‘I didn’t really even understand what my role was, I literally just sat down in a courtroom and the case started, there wasn’t even really an introduction’ and that’s shocking,” he says.

Farrant has filed a lawsuit seeking damages from the federal and Ontario governments over his PTSD.

The announcement comes a day after MPs on the Justice Committee tabled a report on improving juror support. Among free counselling, it recommends a minimum $120 a day compensation, daycare allowances, amending the Criminal Code to allow former jurists to discuss deliberations with mental health professional and minimizing interactions between jurists and other involved in an ongoing trial.

“The mental health improvements are a great first step but I think the conversation now has to extend to how are we looking after jurors?” Farrant adds.

Currently in BC jurors are offered $20 a day for the first 10 days of a trial, $60 a day for days 11 to 49, and $100 for 50 days or more.

The government hasn’t announced when the new program will be available as it seeks a service provider.