A Kamloops woman who spoke on behalf of Canadian jurors to a group of federal lawmakers recommending increased services for those tasked with judging their fellow citizens is encouraged by a recent announcement offering mental-health counselling.
But she says more must be done.
Michaela Swan was jury forewoman in a 2016 first-degree murder trial in B.C. Supreme Court in Kamloops.
Following the trial, Swan wrote a letter to the provincial government and then Ottawa describing her experiences.
She was then called to testify in front of a federal committee looking at Canada’s jury system.
“It was an intense experience,” Swan told KTW, speaking about her time as a juror.
“From that experience, just watching, seeing what I was doing, the experience I could see, you could just see the toll it took on people. It’s a challenging toll.”
Last year, the federal government released an 80-page report that included 11 recommendations to improve the experience for jurors in Canada.
The recommendations included expanded pre-trial education, debriefing sessions, psychological support and loosening the Criminal Code’s strict secrecy rules, as well as increasing allowance, improving the jurors’ environment and information-sharing between provinces and territories.
Following the recommendations made by the committee before which Swan testified, B.C.’s provincial government has unveiled the Juror Support System — a series of supports for people who have served on juries.
“As part of a juror’s civic duty, people often hear difficult and emotional details of a case that can take a toll on their mental health,” said Judy Darcy, B.C.’s minister of mental health and addictions.
“Making sure that jurors have access to the mental-health services to help them work through their experiences is vital.
“Through the new Juror Support Program, they now have the support they deserve.”
Under the program, all B.C. jurors will have access to four confidential, in-person one-on-one sessions with a counsellor for up to six months after their verdict.
Jurors will also be given self-care information, the government said in a release, and will be offered debriefing resources following a verdict.
“I am pleased these resources are now available to jurors in our province,” B.C. Attorney General David Eby said.
“British Columbians who serve on juries are participating in an important public service and they should have access to the appropriate supports and the beginning of a trial and after their jury duty is complete.”
Swan said she welcomes the changes, but hopes more will be done soon.
“I think it’s a step in the right direction,” she said.
“Does it meet all the recommendations in the report? No. But I think it’s great the government is recognizing chances to improve.”