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Can you refuse jury duty?

Region: Ontario Answer # 7752

As a Canadian citizen, it is your civic duty to respond to a jury summons and, if chosen, to serve as a juror. However, there are circumstances in which you may be exempt from serving, such as you are ill or because of some other hardship. If you do not respond to a jury duty notice, or attend jury duty, you may face penalties such as fines and contempt of court charges.

In Ontario, the Potential Jury Centre of the Ministry of the Attorney General randomly selects potential jurors from the provincial voters’ list. The Potential Jury Centre sends these individuals a juror questionnaire that must be completed and returned in a pre-paid envelope within 30 days of receiving it. It is important to note that a jury questionnaire is not a summons for jury duty, and it does not mean you are on a jury.

The questionnaires are used to determine who is eligible for jury duty. Those chosen are then sent a letter in the mail (called a jury summons), which gives the time and place to appear.

What if you do not complete and return the juror questionnaire?

As per section 38(3) of Ontario Juries Act, failure to return the questionnaire, or providing false information, are offences punishable by a fine of up-to $5,000 and/or up-to six months in jail.

What if you do not attend jury duty after receiving a summons?

Under section 39 of the Juries Act, every person is in contempt of court who, without reasonable excuse,

(a) having been duly summoned to attend on a jury, does not attend in pursuance of the summons, or being there called does not answer to his or her name; or

(b) being a juror or supplementary juror, after having been called, is present but does not appear, or after appearing wilfully withdraws from the presence of the court;

While there is no set penalty for failing to show up without a reasonable excuse, a judge could impose a fine and possible jail, although this rarely occurs.

Getting excused from jury duty

If you are too ill to serve as a juror, or you cannot do so because of other hardship, you can request that you be excused from jury duty by applying for an exemption. You must present serious and reasonable grounds for the exemption.

Grounds for exemption

You may request to have your jury service rescheduled to a later date, called a deferral, or ask for an excusal (to be fully excused from jury duty for the year), if you are not able to serve as a juror because of one of the following:

  • sickness
  • serving as a juror may cause serious hardship or loss to you or others
  • serving as a juror is against your religion
  • you do not live within a reasonable distance of the court (e.g., due to a move)

You may request and be granted an exemption from jury duty by the court if:

  • you, or your spouse, is 65 years of age or over;
  • you have a physical or sensory disability;
  • you have serious health problems;
  • you have too many family responsibilities;
  • you have served as a juror, or been retained for jury duty, in the last five years.

You may also be excused from jury duty if you are employed or licensed in a certain profession, such as police, firefighter, or medial partitioner. For more information, view 7751 Who can and who cannot be called to jury duty?

How to request a deferral or excusal

You should email a request for deferral or excusal, along with any documentation you have relevant to your request, to the court office as soon as possible. This may include utility bills, medical notes, a purchase or lease agreement with a new address, or receipts for booked travel. A judge will decide if you may be excused based on the seriousness of your situation. If you have received a jury summons and wish to request a deferral or excusal, visit Ontario.ca/juryduty-summoned.

Get Help

If you have a criminal record and want to erase it, call toll-free 1-888-808-3628 or learn more at Pardon Partners. It’s easier than you think.

If you have been charged with a crime, it is important to hire an experienced criminal defence lawyer as soon as possible. Contact our preferred criminal defence expert, Calvin Barry Criminal Lawyers for a free consultation at 416-938-5858.


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