UK Considers Lifting Ban on Jury Service for People with Mental Health Issues

Jury service comprises an important, if not always warmly welcomed, element of social involvement, and its focus on requiring time and effort from all citizens in order to establish a realistic representation of society at large is a major aspect of its healthy functioning. That’s why the organization Rethink in the UK has recently called for a change in local laws preventing people with mental health issues or in current professional treatment from serving on juries. The organization has pointed out that the current restrictions are often responsible for keeping qualified and competent people out of the courtrooms where they could potentially be of great service to the country; Winston Churchill, on account of his depression, would have been barred from jury service, Rethink notes.

The government, which enacted the laws in 1974 in an effort to restrict jury service to those who were felt to be capable of performing their duties with integrity, was cited as making a commitment to examining the issue in 2004, yet has not produced any meaningful discussion or data to date. In response to this apparent neglect of national desire for equality and good sense in mental health issues, Rethink has worked to put pressure on the government to prioritize the question of who is-–and who is not–fit for jury service.

In 2005, the UK produced the Mental Capacity Act, which differentiates between those who are able to function in a competent manner despite mental health concerns or the use of ongoing therapy or other treatments, and those who may not be able to make a meaningful contribution to society when assigned certain tasks. The organization and its advocates suggest that using this criteria in place of outdated rules prejudiced against mental health concerns in general would constitute a strong step forward for the UK.

© Copyright 2010 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • matt J.

    matt J.

    January 18th, 2010 at 10:36 AM

    I do not think the ban should be lifted… because if it is, then it would bring in a lot of other complexities like which set of people are to be allowed and which are to be banned…what issues are okay and what are not… its just a pandora’s box, which does not need to be opened!

  • Hollis

    Hollis

    January 18th, 2010 at 2:05 PM

    Totally agree with matt j. Let the lawyers sort out who they want on the juries and keep the government out of these issues.

  • W.Richards

    W.Richards

    January 18th, 2010 at 3:05 PM

    Well, whatever they do, in whichever direction this heads, there will always be a group of people opposing the move. So I think the best way forward would be to keep it the way it is and not change it at all.

  • Elizabeth R.

    Elizabeth R.

    January 18th, 2010 at 10:42 PM

    So you’d rather exclude someone as intelligent as Churchill because they had depression? Interesting to see that prejudice against the mentally ill as a group is still alive and kicking.

  • LaScala

    LaScala

    January 18th, 2010 at 11:18 PM

    “In 2005, the UK produced the Mental Capacity Act, which differentiates between those who are able to function in a competent manner despite mental health concerns or the use of ongoing therapy or other treatments, and those who may not be able to make a meaningful contribution to society when assigned certain tasks.”

    This bears repeating for the ones who didn’t read it the first time. The suggestion is not ALL mentally ill people can serve, only those that can maintain a stable existence whilst taking their medication or that have in some manner managed to be in control of their lives and their faculties.

  • Thomas

    Thomas

    January 18th, 2010 at 11:56 PM

    Give me a person that had the courage to seek treatment for mental health challenges on a jury instead of a giggling twenty year old every time! Seeking treatment illustrates that they are not afraid to do what needs to be done, despite what others may think or how they may be judged by a less than tolerant and ignorant society.

  • Wanderer

    Wanderer

    January 19th, 2010 at 12:09 AM

    Mental health, like dandruff, crops up when you least expect it. – Robin Worthington

    Inclusion today could be exclusion tomorrow if you have a mental illness diagnosed. No one knows what tomorrow holds for them.

    Opponents of change: remember that.

  • cooper

    cooper

    January 19th, 2010 at 4:17 AM

    It may be wrong to exclude just anybody having a mental health issue is not quite right… the problem may be very little and the definition for mental health problem is not too clear, because in medical science, many seemingly-normal beahiviors are also not perfect, so it may actually end up excluding a whole lot of people.

  • Yolanda

    Yolanda

    January 19th, 2010 at 11:15 AM

    Hollis, it’s the law. You can’t keep the government out of the legal system. They wrote the rules!

  • Gabriel

    Gabriel

    January 19th, 2010 at 12:37 PM

    A person who is fit enough to 1) hold down a regular job on a long term basis or 2) go back to work after a spell of illness and pick up their job where they left off. That signals competency to me in a big way. Holding down a job has a whole set of demands–productivity, multitasking, people skills, organizational skills, stress management etc. Being able to do so demonstrates you can function in society at an adequate level and that could be a valid benchmark.

  • janie b

    janie b

    January 19th, 2010 at 12:50 PM

    How far back are they looking into someone’s history? And really is it any of their business anyway?

  • Katie

    Katie

    January 19th, 2010 at 2:14 PM

    I would welcome such a lift on the ban. People with mental health issues are discriminated against in all fields…there are many mental health issues in which a person can do his job perfectly and without any problems. But most people just view them like they are not fit to do any work at all. It is not fair and I am confident that if this is brought into effect, it will have a major role to play in changing people’s perceptions, which I truly welcome.

  • Teach

    Teach

    January 20th, 2010 at 7:18 AM

    The exception I could see would be if the cause of the mental health problem was related to the crime the jury had to discuss — for example a rape victim serving as a juror on a rape case. I feel it would be more compassionate to exclude the juror from having to hear that evidence. (The defense lawyers would never allow that person to be selected anyway I guess).

  • Craig H.

    Craig H.

    January 20th, 2010 at 8:56 AM

    Newsflash! Mentally ill people can and do get better. Healing happens. Not all the time but it does. That’s why we have treatment and therapy.

    If I’d broken a leg that was now fully healed to my doctor’s satisfaction would that bar me from serving too?

  • Nathaniel

    Nathaniel

    January 21st, 2010 at 4:38 PM

    Not that any juror in the history of the judicial system has had any kind of undiagnosed mental disturbance. No sir.

  • Harriet R.

    Harriet R.

    January 22nd, 2010 at 5:41 PM

    When and if they bring in mental capacity testing, why stop at jurors? It should include everyone in that courtroom whose actions affect the outcome. Trouble is, half of their geriatric judges would be kicked out of the courtrooms too.

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