January 15, 2010
by Staff Reporter
Campaigners are stepping up their fight to allow people with mental health problems to be eligible for jury service.
The UK is one of only two jurisdictions in the English-speaking world that excludes people who have recovered from a mental illness from serving on juries.
Campaigners say the government made a commitment to a consultation relating specifically to mental illness and jury service in its 2004 Social Exclusion report. But no consultation has yet been published.
The ban stems from the Juries Act 1974 where a section on "mentally disordered persons" bars from jury service anyone "who suffers or has suffered from mental illness, psychopathic disorder, mental handicap or severe mental handicap, and on account of that condition either is resident in a hospital or other similar institution, or regularly attends for treatment by a medical practitioner".
Rethink wants this law replaced with a new definition of capacity, based on the 2005 Mental Capacity Act, which would allow many of those currently banned to serve, while excluding those who are genuinely unfit.
Rethink cites Winston Churchill as someone who, owing to his depression, would be banned.
Rethink claims 750 people a month are disqualified from UK jury service on mental health grounds.
These include people who have recovered but still "regularly attend for treatment by a medical practitioner".
Richard Charlton, chairman of the Mental Health Lawyers Association, said a disproportionate number of people with mental health problems appeared before juries.
"If juries are to reflect a cross-section of society, then people with a mental health history should sit on them. The Mental Capacity Act 2005 defines capacity. Let’s use it."
A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said it was "keeping under review" the possibility of using the Mental Capacity Act as a guide to a juror’s suitability.
See also: Mental health law
Churchill's no patron saint of madness
From: Phil Barker, honorary professor of medicine, nursing and dentistry, University of Dundee, Scotland
Date: January 21, 2010
Churchill may have had some problems with his 'black dog' (depression) and this may have afforded him a little more compassion in later life towards those similarly afflicted. How far that compassion extended, no on can tell.
However, Rethink is being either devoutly ignorant or wholly disingenuous in employing Churchill as some 'patron saint of madness'. When he was a cabinet minister in 1910 Churchill wrote to the Prime Minister (Asquith) noting that:
"'the unnatural and increasingly rapid growth of the feeble-minded and insane classes, coupled as it is with a steady restriction among all the thrifty, energetic and superior stocks, constitutes a national and race danger which it is impossible to exaggerate".
What was Churchill's 'solution' - mass sterilisation! Churchill's anxiety fizzled out and his 'solution' was never implemtned (at least no completely) but it was developed, and implemented, grotesquely by the Nazis. Even clever men can sometimes be stupid.
We now view Churchill as the nation's saviour on account of his wartime record but let us not forget the measure of the man.
See Barker P (2010) Mental Health Ethics: The Human Context London: Routledge