Jury Duty - Overview
Note: This describes the system in Ontario. Other jurisdictions may have different procedures.
Your name gets chosen for jury duty at random from the voters' list. Your participation is a legal obligation.
The right to a trial by a jury of one'speers is a cornerstone of our justice system and one of its oldest institutions. It exists to protect the individual'srights and to involve the community in the administration of justice.
You must complete the Jury Certification Form (attached to your Summons) and use the enclosed envelope to return it to the address shown within 10 days of receiving your Summons.
If you have moved outside the jurisdiction of the court mentioned in the Summons, please advise the sheriff'soffice immediately.
- be at least 19 years old;
- be a Canadian citizen; and
- be a resident of the province
of the jurisdiction that served you.
- A police officer, lawyer, trustee in bankruptcy, employee of the Ministry of Attorney General (or certain other occupations); or
- A person who has been convicted
of certain criminal offences within the last five years.
If you are disqualified, you must mail details (such as a copy of your birth certificate; or note your occupation, job title and department, etc., on the Jury Certification Form) to the sheriff'soffice.
The Jury Act allows some exemptions
from jury service based on extraordinary circumstances.
Exemption by mail request include:
- If you are over the age of 65, and live in BC you can choose whether or not to serve as a juror. If you choose not to serve, include your date of birth and Medical Services Plan Gold Card number on the Jury Certification Form. If you choose to serve as a juror, complete and return the Jury Certification Form and attend the selection process on the date indicated.
- You may be exempted for health reasons. You must submit a note from your doctor with the Jury Certification Form. Ask your doctor to write the relevant information on a prescription pad page and sign it.
- If you are a full-time student,
you may be exempted. Submit a photocopy of your course registration
form and receipt for tuition fees along with your Jury Certification
Exemptions, for which you must contact the sheriff'soffice are:
- Serving as a juror would cause you extreme hardship. This could apply if, for example, you are a nursing mother, or self-employed and your business would be threatened by your absence.
- Limited ability to speak or understand English or French would impede your duty as a juror.
- Firm travel plans or other vacation plans conflict with the jury selection or trial date.
- If you still feel you have valid reasons for exemption, you will have a chance to discuss them with the judge before you are sworn in or asked to make a solemn affirmation. (A solemn affirmation is a solemn promise that has the same effect as a religious oath.)
Jury panels are called to provide a pool of potential jurors for upcoming trials. The panel remains active for up to two months. As a member of the panel, you must attend one or two jury selection processes during that period.
At the jury selection, a jury will be chosen for each trial scheduled for that month. The trial may be a criminal or civil case. On average, fewer than 15 percent of trials are civil cases. The type of trial is indicated on the Summons.
Selection for Criminal Trials
Jury selection for criminal trials are attended by the person accused of an offence, defence counsel (the lawyer representing the accused), Crown counsel (the lawyer who prosecutes the case), and court staff. Twelve jurors are chosen for each criminal trial.
The clerk of the court will read the charges and ask the accused to plead "guilty" or "not guilty". If the accused pleads not guilty, the trial begins with the selection of a jury. You will be told when the trial will be held and how long it is expected to last. On average, criminal trials last two to ten days.
On occasion, trials can last more than ten days. A special letter is usually mailed with Summonses when the jury selection is for a longer trial.
The clerk of the court begins the selection process by drawing names of panelists from a box at random. If your name is called, answer "here" and move to the front of the court as directed by the sheriff. The clerk will continue drawing names until about 15 or 20 panelists have been called.
Next, one of three things can happen:
- Crown or defence counsel may "challenge" each panelist who has been called. A challenge simply means that either lawyer does not want you to serve as a juror in that particular case. If challenged, you will be asked to go back to your seat. Your name will be re-entered in the box, from which names for other juries will be drawn, and you may be called again later.
- Both counsel may consent to you serving as a juror on the trial. Once accepted, you will be sworn in or affirmed and then seated in the jury box. If for any reason you feel you cannot serve, tell the sheriff or request to speak to the judge before being sworn in or affirmed.
- You may be asked to "stand
aside." Again, no explanation will be given. Once asked to stand
aside, you must wait until 12 jurors have been chosen, then you can
return to your seat.
When 12 jurors have been chosen and sworn in or affirmed, the case is adjourned and the jury is led out of the courtroom. Then the selection process begins for the next trial.
In some cases one or two alternate jurors may also be selected at the direction of the judge.
Jury selections continue until juries have been chosen for each scheduled trial. Remaining panelists are then dismissed. The selection process usually takes about half a day.
The panel can be recalled the following month for a second jury selection, If that happens, the process described above will be repeated for trials scheduled that month.
Selection for Civil Trials
Jury selection for civil trials is much the same as for criminal trials. Civil trials resolve disputes between the plaintiff (the party that initiated the action) and the defendant (the party that the action is against). Both parties are represented at the jury selection.
Eight jurors are selected for civil trials in BC. In the other eight Canadian common law provinces, some provinces have 7 person juries and some 6. These trials usually begin the same day the jury is chosen. If you are called for a civil trial, be prepared to spend the entire day at the courthouse. These trials usually last two to four days.
If you are chosen as a juror, you will be sworn in or affirmed and then seated in the jury box. Civil trials either begin immediately or after a short recess. If you are serving on a criminal trial, you will receive further instructions after being escorted from the courtroom by a sheriff. You will then be dismissed until the day the trial begins.
Before the trial begins, the judge will give you instructions on your duties as a juror. This will include what to expect during the trial, the hours the court will be in session, and other matters.
Employers must give employees
time off to attend jury selection and to serve as jurors. Under the Employment
Standards Act, a juror is considered to be on unpaid leave for the period
of jury duty. Although the employers are not legally obligated to pay
employees for lost wages while on jury duty, the employee is considered
to be in continuous employment for the purposes of calculating annual
vacation, termination entitlements, as well as for pension, medical or
other employee benefit plans. The employee is also entitled to all increases
in wages and benefits which he or she would have received if not on jury
duty. Further, the employer may not terminate an employee on jury duty,
or change a condition of employment, without the employee'swritten
consent. As soon as jury duty ends, an employee must be returned to his
or her former position or comparable position.
Under the Employment Insurance Act, a person entitled to employment insurance benefits remains entitled to those benefits while engaged in jury service.
You may receive a fee for each day you serve as a juror, and you may be reimbursed for some expenses. You must keep all receipts.
Jurors are responsible for their own lunches during a trial. Tea and coffee will be served. When a jury is deliberating a verdict, necessary meals and accommodation will be provided.
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