Jurors 'may be left traumatised'

  • Deborah Condon

People who take part in jury duty may be left traumatised because of their exposure to harrowing and gruesome evidence, UK psychologists have warned.

The team from the University of Leicester found that jury service, particularly for crimes against people, can cause significant anxiety. Furthermore, for a vulnerable minority, it can lead to severe clinical levels of stress or the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

The research noted that women jurors are more vulnerable, particularly if the trial covers material that resonates with their personal histories.

The study warned of the perils of undergoing jury service and the fact that people cannot talk about their experiences for fear of being held in contempt of court.

“Recent research on post-traumatic stress disorder has revealed that it is not only victims of violence or crime that suffer trauma, but that those who interact with them may also be affected,” explained lead researcher, Dr Noelle Robertson.

She said that when people are called to jury service, they may be exposed to gruesome exhibits, harrowing stories, the distress of witnesses and shocking photographs. This exposure can lead to some of them becoming traumatised.

When they retire to reach their verdict, the jurors then have to discuss and weigh up the evidence and may be under pressure to change their own views or to try and change the views of others. All of this can lead to short-term or long-term distress.

The psychologists found that the times during trials when jurors were required to make decisions were cited as the most stressful, but having to deal with evidence that might be horrific was also a source of concern, particularly for women, who were also more adversely affected by dissension and questioning in the jury room.

While Dr Robertson urged caution in the interpretation of what was a small-scale study, it does bear out research from North America, and confirms that jury service can be a source of stress, which for some people can be overwhelming.

Details of these findings are published in the Howard Journal of Criminal Justice.

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