Rethink: Mental Illness

‘Allow people with mental health problems to be jurors’

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.

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