Many of us will be about to engage in democratic participation as we gear up to cast our votes in the general election. Sitting on a jury is another vital way in which we are participatory democracy, with around 350,000 people are called up for jury duty each year in England and Wales. On 8 May 2024 the Ministry of Justice launched its new programme for supporting, which will begin this summer.

The judiciary are already able to reflect the toll that sensitive cases can take on juror’s time and emotions. For example, at the conclusion of the Lucy Letby trial jurors were excused from ever having to serve on a jury again. Closer to home, HHJ Farrer KC excused all the jurors in the Cody Fisher nightclub murder (prosecuted by Mike Duck KC leading Matthew Brook KC, in which Talbir Singh KC also represented one of the defendants) of taking part in jury service for 20 years.

This new programme will provide specialist expert support for jurors, offering six free counselling sessions alongside a 24/7 telephone helpline. The scheme will be piloted at 15 Crown Courts across England and Wales, including Birmingham. The scheme is due to be run for 10 months, during which time the Ministry of Justice will assess how best to allocate resources to support jurors that help serve the criminal justice system.

At present, the only pastoral assistance available to jurors is signposting to their GP or the Samaritans. This is despite research by Manchester Metropolitan University suggesting that 50 percent of jurors experience signs of post-trial trauma and a fourfold increase in signs of PTSD amongst jurors following short term exposure to murder case materials.

Interestingly, psychological support has been in place in Scotland for a number of years. Under this arrangement jurors can receive a session with a psychological therapist. This has to be approved by the presiding judge or sheriff of the case.

Jury service is a public responsibility which no one would argue has to be a ‘fun’ experience, but it also shouldn’t traumatise members of society who are doing their duty. To ensure that juries remain a cornerstone of our criminal justice system, the way juries are treated must evolve to meet the demands of the 21st century. Sensible and sensitive changes like these will protect not only jurors but also the integrity of the jury system itself.