I will start.
Good afternoon, Mr. Chair and honourable members. Thank you for the opportunity to present this afternoon on behalf of Alberta Justice.
As a bit of background, I have been employed with Alberta Justice for 35 years. I have been part of the process of summonsing jurors, clerking the jury trial, clerking the selection, and scheduling the jury trials. Most recently, I was the team lead in implementing the Alberta juror support program.
Years ago, Alberta was concerned about the effect on jurors of both toxic evidence and of being in a very confrontational jury room, as most jurors come with no experience with regard to either. In fact, I still have the mental health package that we used in our jurisdiction, dated 2008.
Each court in Alberta was providing juror counselling assistance in their own unique way; however, there was no unified approach. Our concern was the result of our own experiences, which was supported by the research that follows.
In 2009, Madam Justice Elizabeth Hughes and her team produced a report wherein one of the recommendations was to implement a juror support program as a result of her research in the field. Justice Hughes' research included references to the study by the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom called “Vicarious Traumatization as a Consequence of Jury Service”, which includes earlier studies from Canada, the United States, and New Zealand.
This study revealed that for the more vulnerable candidates, jury duty can lead to severe stress or post-traumatic stress disorder, or what the researchers refer to as “vicarious traumatization”. The findings showed that some 23% of the jurors reported dealing with traumatic events; 5% reported that they had responded with intense fear, helplessness, or horror; and one juror was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
She references literature from “Stress and the Canadian Criminal Trial Jury” by Sanjeev Anand and Heather Manweiller, which includes American case studies that conclude that if juries are to continue to play a role in the administration of criminal justice, the impact of trials on jurors cannot continue to be largely ignored.
Her research identifies the program already implemented in Queensland, Australia, where their Jury Act indicates, “A former member of a jury may disclose jury information to a health professional who is treating the former member in relation to issues arising out of the former member’s service on the jury.”
As a result of this research, counselling has been recognized as a necessary and important part of our system to support jurors on all criminal trials, notwithstanding their nature. As you've heard in your recent committee meetings, not only can trial evidence impact a juror, but what happens in the jury room itself may also affect a juror's emotional health.
The report made four recommendations. The first three were to provide juror counselling, to update our current handout mailed to prospective jurors regarding the process, and to create one consistent general information sheet to be provided to the selected jurors in all Alberta locations. It also made recommendations regarding jury comfort, an increase in fees, reimbursement for lost wages, escorts, and so on.
To implement the recommendation for a juror support program, the team developed a process to ensure that all jurors who required assistance could access it, that program information was provided to all jurors regardless of subject matter, and that the same services were being offered consistently province-wide. The judiciary can now rely on court administration to ensure that this practice is being followed, no matter which jurisdiction they may be sitting in.
Justice Hughes also recommended that jurors be enabled to access this counselling at any time after the commencement of a trial, including mid-trial; however, the sessions have to be focused on emotional issues and not on the evidence.
Through the procurement process, an invitation to tender was circulated, wherein Shepell-fgi was the successful service provider.
The team had recommended that four sessions be offered per juror, to be utilized within two months of the conclusion of the trial, with a clause added that should the counsellor determine that more sessions were required, an application for an extension could be submitted to our department for consideration. This figure was a result of consultations with our Shepell contacts—Dora Newcombe, who is joining us, and Claude Bourque—and Madam Justice Hughes, through Corinne Jamieson, our Court of Queen's Bench executive director here in Alberta.
Shepell drafted two handouts to be provided to jurors at the beginning of the trial, one providing information regarding the impact of a court case and another with contact information on how to cope when a difficult court case has concluded. Jurors can access the toll-free number provided on the handout that will connect them directly with a counsellor.
As a side note, it is important to mention that some of our judiciaries do take the time to meet with the jury panel in the jury room after the trial has concluded, when it's appropriate. At that time, they also remind them of our counselling offer.
In Alberta, for a one-year period from September 2015 to August 2016, 68 jury trials were conducted. They impacted approximately 816 Albertans, and seven contacted Shepell for counselling.
Thank you. That's my presentation.