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 The organization and its advocates suggest that using this criteria in place of outdated rules prejudiced against mental health concerns in general would constitute a strong step forward for the UK.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 John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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