Ontario Announces Free Counselling for Traumatized Jurors

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney General announced last week that they will be launching a Juror Support Program to provide free, accessible counselling services to those serving jury duty.

Attorney General Yasir Naqvi has stated:  “Jurors in difficult trials do face evidence that could be quite horrific, and we’ve heard those stories, [i]t’s only appropriate that we provide appropriate services.”

How Does the Program Work?

Under the province’s current system, jurors who wish to pursue counselling must first obtain a trial judge’s permission or a court order, otherwise they must pay for counselling on their own.

The new Juror Support Program will be available to any juror who has served in a criminal or civil trial, or a coroner’s inquest. Jurors will be provided with information about the Program at the beginning and end of the trial. The Program will operate like an employee assistance program. Beginning in January 2017, jurors will be able to call a phone number and receive help from a designated third party whenever necessary. The government is yet to determine who this third party will be, and exactly what type of counselling will be available.

The Attorney General hopes that “…through this important change we’ll continue to maintain the confidence in our justice system and the very important role that jurors play.”

What Led to this Change?

The need for such a program was brought to light by Mark Farrant, who was diagnosed with PTSD after serving as jury foreman in a violent first-degree murder trial in Toronto two and a half years ago. At trial, the accused was found guilty of second-degree murder in the death of his girlfriend, whose throat he had slit, and whom he had stabbed repeatedly prior to setting their home on fire.

Mr. Farrant stated to CBC News that he was “not the same person I am coming out of that trial as I was going in…[t]he immediate graphic horror really of the crime itself, that was apparent very quickly, and I don’t think I was prepared for that”. Mr. Farrant further mentioned that he was very affected by the autopsy photos, photos and video of the crime scene, and the coroner’s verbal description and diagrams of the victim. The effect of these images was compounded by the fact that Mr. Farrant couldn’t share what he saw and heard at trial with anyone since, at the outset of a trial, each juror is instructed by the trial judge not to discuss details of the case with anyone outside the jury, and not to listen to, watch, or read any outside reports about the case.

Mr. Farrant’s trauma intensified over time, and he began to exhibit more acute symptoms. He tried to work through the troubles he was experiencing on his own for many months, until family members suggested that he seek professional help. He initially called the court, as well as social services, but was informed that the decision to provide counselling to jurors is at the discretion of the trial judge, and if it not ordered, jurors have to seek and pay for it on their own.

Mr. Farrant has been paying to see a therapist to help with his PTSD for the past year and states that he was proud to have served on a jury but that “A juror should not have to seek support, should not have to be burdened with an additional enormous burden of trying to get better after something that has impacted them that was their civic duty to perform”.

We will continue to follow updates on this important matter, and will provide updates as necessary.

To speak with an experienced criminal defence lawyer about your rights, please contact Affleck & Barrison online or at 905-404-1947.