Rising numbers of jurors in criminal trials are facing the risk of being traumatised by “sadistic” evidence, including graphic photographs and video of sexual abuse, a high-ranking judge and a senior barrister have warned.
There are concerns within the legal system that jury members are not given enough advice before being exposed to disturbing material, while support afterwards is “completely inadequate”, Chris Henley QC, chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, told The Yorkshire Post’s sister title, the i newspaper.
“This is a real, pressing, growing issue,” said Mr Henley. “People who are whisked out of their normal lives and confronted with very traumatic stories and events and images receive absolutely no support at all.”
These problems can often occur in sexual offences trials. New figures show that these kinds of cases rose from 25 per cent of all jury verdicts in 2006 to 35 per cent by 2014, and official data shows that juries had to try 5,784 defendants charged with these crimes in 2017.
Judge Eleri Rees, the Recorder of Cardiff, has noticed this “huge increase” over the past decade and said: “Increasingly you’ll find sexual assaults may have been recorded or videoed. There is a danger the jurors will have to deal with really graphic material that is quite shocking... You would not be human if you were not affected by it.”
The warnings come just weeks after one juror felt so distressed by video evidence during the trial of Ceon Broughton that they had to be discharged.
Broughton, 30, from Enfield, north London, recorded the death of his girlfriend Louella Fletcher-Michie at the Bestival music festival in 2017 after she overdosed on drugs he had supplied. He was jailed for her manslaughter last week.
Clinical psychologist Dr Noelle Robertson said it is possible that juror stress could affect verdicts and that more research is needed.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice said a range of support services are already available for jurors, including counselling from GPs and advice from the Samaritans.