A high court judge and senior barrister have recently warned of the serious effects that exposure to traumatic material can have on jurors. Chris Henley QC, Chair of the Criminal Barr Association, said “People who are whisked out of their normal lives and confronted with very traumatic stories and events receive absolutely no support at all”. His thoughts were echoed by Her Honour Judge Elleri Rees QC, the Recorder of Cardiff, who noted “Increasingly you’ll find sexual assaults may have been recorded or videoed. There is a danger the jurors will have to deal with really graphic material that is quite shocking…. You would not be human if you were not affected by it”.
CiC highlighted this in a television interview last year, and is working to deliver specialist support to jurors across the country.
It has become a matter of urgency that the Government takes seriously the effect that involvement in distressing and disturbing cases has on jurors who may suffer severe mental health issues, unless professional support is offered as a matter of course when people are called for jury service.
The clinical team at CiC is continually dealing with vicarious trauma cases from media agencies, NGOs and other organisations where staff have suffered traumatic symptoms after exposure to graphic images in the course of their working week.
There are a number of simple models that can be put in place to greatly reduce the impact of such material. Companies are becoming much more aware that staff training is essential to the wellbeing of those who may have to watch or listen to highly distressing material. It is not enough to signpost jurors to the Samaritans at the conclusion of a case, for example, as professional counselling should be available as a matter of course throughout the trial.
Training should also be provided before jurors take their seats in court, so that they have an awareness that they may be impacted by difficult material and where support is available. Journalists and aid workers will often attend hostile environment training courses before they travel to challenging regions across the globe, and these programmes will include modules that describe the psychological effects of exposure to trauma.
In the same way, jurors should be prepared for the emotional impact that being confronted with very traumatic stories may have on their mental health.
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