Back the Mental Health Discrimination Bill
Posted Wednesday 5 September 2012
In 2009, I received a summons for jury service. The summons came with an information leaflet explaining how to go about deferring jury duty for work or personal reasons, if needed. It also listed categories of persons who were ineligible to serve.
One category in particular caught my eye:
People with mental illness who 'regularly attend for treatment by a medical practitioner.'
Hmm, I thought; at a stretch, this could mean me - although I barely thought of myself as having a mental health problem. I had a diagnosis, sure, but it had been several years since I had seen a psychiatrist. Because I was so stable on a single, very effective, medication, I didn't even see my GP. I simply picked up a repeat prescription every three months. I felt perfectly well and did not believe there was anything about my mental health which would affect my ability to be an effective juror.
And I had plenty of evidence to back me up.
I had recently completed a two year full time training course to become a qualified Probation Officer (PO). In the process I had acquired a BSc (Hons) in Criminal Justice (first class and top of my year, as it happened) and an NVQ Level 4 in Community Justice. I had also supervised offenders in the community, completed placements in a Magistrates' Court and the Crown Court, and visited clients in Young Offenders Institutions and adult prisons before I was allowed to qualify.
The work of a Probation Officer is varied, but at its heart is the completion of detailed assessments on clients. In 2009, my job required me to complete two Pre-Sentence Reports (PSRs) a week. To write a PSR, a Probation Officer pulls together all that is known about an offender to help the Court decide what the offenders' sentence should be. Some of the sources a PO uses are lengthy and even dull (such as pages and pages of transcribed police interviews); some can be distressing to read (for example, victim and witness reports in their own words); others, like forensic lab reports and psychiatric reports, are technical and full of jargon.
All the material is sensitive and highly confidential. The PO interviews the client, makes a professional judgement about how truthful they are being and how much responsibility they accept for their crime(s), and combine this with the information in the file. The report concludes with a recommendation for a Judge or Magistrates as to an appropriate sentence. The majority of reports I wrote at the time were on offences so serious they had to be heard at the Crown Court.
So I emailed Her Majesty's Court Service. I explained that I did not "attend treatment" other than to collect prescriptions, and that I was perfectly well. I explained that I was a professionally qualified Probation Officer, used to the Court setting and to dealing with sensitive, complex and potentially distressing material on a daily basis.
I received a return email confirming my ineligibility.
So, someone with no interest in criminal justice, who might find a case boring or even incomprehensible, can be a juror. Someone could have a physical health problem that could flare up during a long trial, but there is no bar on them serving. Someone with a poorly-controlled mental health issue who refuses treatment could also serve as a juror, since treatment, not diagnosis, renders someone ineligible. But someone who takes responsibility for ensuring their condition is as well controlled as possible, by taking their meds or seeing their doctor regularly, is barred from being part of a jury service, a key tenet of what it means to be a citizen of this country.
If that's not stigma and discrimination in action, I don't know what is.
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