Mr. Speaker, Bill S-206 proposes a change to the existing rules regarding the confidentiality of deliberations between members of a jury who have to decide the fate of an accused person.
The rule about the confidentiality of jury proceedings is set out in section 649 of the Criminal Code and is also called “Lord Mansfield's rule”. It is a cornerstone of common law and the British criminal justice system.
This rule is anything but trivial. The jury is the trier of fact. The judge presiding over a trial is the trier of law. The judge adjudicates matters of law that arise over the course of the trial and gives the necessary advice to inform and guide the jury regarding these matters. That said, at the end of the day, as intended by the legislator, it is the members of the jury who decide whether the accused is guilty or innocent.
The role of jurors is therefore vitally important to the judicial process. When they deliberate, they need to feel completely free to say what they think out loud without later worrying about being publicly quoted as having put forward a certain idea or opinion. Obviously, the jurors will often disagree with one another when they first begin their deliberations, but they will work together to consider all of the facts entered into evidence during the trial, which could go on for many weeks in some cases.
At that point, the success of their work will basically depend on the flow of their debate and how comfortable they feel talking freely and unreservedly among themselves. I am thinking of the ability to share the uninhibited, unfiltered thoughts that come into our minds as we think about what we are going to say.
The legislator grants the jury a type of legal status—a partial, temporary status—that lasts only as long as the trial. The jury will then speak with one voice and render a unanimous verdict, like a single person who speaks after carefully considering and weighing all aspects of an issue.
It is therefore easy to see that a sound decision requires absolute confidence in the confidentiality of their deliberations, just as every one of us refuses to compromise the integrity and inviolability of our thoughts. Anyone who, rightly or wrongly, believes someone else is probing their thoughts will self-censor and be unable to think freely. That is anathema to a healthy thought process and wise deliberation.
Section 649 of the Criminal Code states that it is an offence for a member of a jury or anyone assisting them to:
[disclose] any information relating to the proceedings of the jury when it was absent from the courtroom that was not subsequently disclosed in open court....
This is the rule that ensures sound, reasonable decisions.
That said, jury duty is not always easy. Sometimes, the facts and evidence of a criminal case can be so intense that they have a significant impact on the jury members hearing the case. Unfortunately, violence and horror can feature prominently in the crimes a person is accused of.
In some cases, jury members can be traumatized to such an extent that they have to consult a health professional to deal with it. Some experiences have drastically transformed the lives of jurors left to cope with their trauma alone.
These people did not choose to be jurors. They were chosen, and they had a legal obligation to fulfil that duty. They clearly deserve our gratitude and our support. As things stand now, it is more difficult for them to receive care and adequate treatment when they are suffering, as they cannot freely speak about their trauma without contravening section 649 of the Criminal Code.
Bill S‑206 proposes to allow members of a jury to be exempt from this rule of confidentiality if they require professional health services for medical or psychiatric treatment, therapy or counselling provided after the trial.
Ensuring access to adequate and efficient health services for those who generously contributed to the justice system is obviously paramount, as common sense dictates. I can only concur with what is fair and obvious.
Bill S-206 asks us to examine a proposed new paragraph (c) under section 649 of the Criminal Code, adding new exceptions to those already established in paragraphs (a) and (b) to allow for evidence to be given in obstruction of justice cases. The proposed paragraph (c) adds an exemption from the confidentiality obligation for the purposes of:
any medical or psychiatric treatment or any therapy or counselling that a person referred to in subsection (1) receives from a health care professional after the completion of the trial in relation to health issues arising out of or related to the person's service at the trial as a juror or as a person who provided support services to a juror.
The proposed subsection 649(3) also adds that the health care professional who provides any medical or psychiatric treatment or any therapy or counselling must be entitled to do so under the laws of a province.
To conclude, Bill S‑206 clearly deserves to be adopted at this stage and referred to a committee. After hearing from experts, we will determine if it can be passed in its current form or if it should be improved or even rejected. At this time, the Bloc Québécois intends to vote in favour of sending Bill S‑206 to a committee.