More support needed for jury members in traumatic cases

QC Derek Ogg

The recent trial of Rachel and Nyomi Fee for the murder of Rachel’s son Liam has brought renewed pleas for support for jurors who serve in traumatic cases.

Currently, the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service does have a designated counselling service for jurors, run by NHS Lothian at the Rivers Centre in Edinburgh. However, it is a decision for the presiding judge or sheriff as to whether it is offered. It can be made available for an individual who is showing signs of distress or it can be opened up to all jurors at the conclusion of a traumatic case.

Many academics and legal professionals want to see help offered as a matter of course.

A jury member on the case, Alan Tait, told BBC Scotland of the traumatic case and the effect being faced with the harrowing evidence has had on him.

Mr Tait still experiences flashbacks, wakes up during the night after nightmares and has found himself in tears on a number of occasions.

Much of the evidence presented to the court came from two boys who Rachel and Nyomi also abused. Video interviews of the children were shown to the jury over two weeks. They told of being left shaking with the cold after being forced to take freezing showers, of being beaten, having their hands bound by cable ties, forced to stay in a make-shift cage.

“One of the things that triggers me off are cable ties,” says Mr Tait.

“During the election there were posters tied to lampposts with cable ties and it just takes me back to that part of the evidence which was very traumatic.”

“I have dreams about being in a cage,” he added.

Such symptoms have been likened to post-traumatic stress disorder. The exposure to horrific evidence, the inability to share experiences with others and then the responsibility of the jurors role can all have lasting traumatic effects.

Derek Ogg QC (pictured) said more support could be given to jurors who have to listen to some of the most “appalling and dreadful things”.

“The public are excluded, remember, from horrendous parts of trials, but the jury sit there and listen with no warning at all.”

“Here’s something I would say the Crown could do is risk assess a case and say, ‘look - jurors should be warned this is going to necessarily involve some graphic evidence’.”