Area of Law: Government and The Justice System
Answer # 712
Jury dutyRegion: Ontario Answer # 712
Jury duty is an important part of the Canadian legal system because it gives citizens the opportunity to participate in bringing about justice. In addition, it allows the accused person to be tried by a jury of one’s peers.
Jury duty can be for criminal or civil cases, although civil cases with juries are rare. In Canada, anyone charged with a criminal offence for which there can be a prison sentence of five years or more has the right to a trial by jury. There are 12 members of a jury in criminal trials, but just six in civil trials in Ontario. If a criminal trial is more complex, there may be one or two alternative jurors in the event that one of the twelve original jurors becomes ill or cannot complete the trial for another reason.
Who can be called to jury duty?
In Ontario, a potential juror must be a Canadian citizen, 19 years old, and a resident of Ontario.
Who cannot serve jury duty?
Anyone who has been a juror in the previous three years cannot serve again. As well, there are a number of occupations that make an individual exempt from jury duty, including:
- Members of the Senate or House of Commons of Canada
- Lawyers and law students
- Doctors and dentists in active practice
- Correction officers
- Probation officers
- Police officers
- Judges, justices of the peace or other officers of the court
- Members of the armed forces on active service
As well, persons convicted of certain criminal offences are ineligible for jury duty.
How are potential jurors chosen?
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 five days of receiving it. 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. The questionnaires are used to determine who is eligible for jury duty. Those chosen are then sent a notice for jury duty (called a jury summons), which gives the time and place to appear.
If you receive a jury summons, it does not necessarily mean you will be selected to sit on a jury, rather, you are only a potential juror. You will be a member of a jury panel, which is a pool of people from which jurors will be selected. At the courthouse, the clerk of the court selects names at random, and once called, the potential juror is given an opportunity to tell the judge of any reasons they believe that they cannot attend court. In addition, the prosecutor and the defence lawyer each has an opportunity to refuse or accept the potential juror. If both counsel accept the individual, he or she becomes part of the jury.
As a Canadian citizen, it is your civic duty to respond to a jury summons and, if chosen, to serve as a juror.
The duty of jurors
During the trial, jurors are required to listen to the evidence presented. It is important that they do their best to evaluate the evidence with an unbiased and open mind. After each side of the case has been presented, the judge will instruct the jury about the relevant law and what is to be considered in making their decision. The jury then will adjourn to a room to make a decision. Jurors are required to keep the information they discuss confidential, both during and after the trial.
In order for a verdict to be reached, all jurors must be in agreement. In cases where a jury cannot agree on the verdict, the judge may discharge the jury and order a new jury to be selected.
Do jurors have the right to take time off work, or be paid?
In most cases, jury duty lasts for about a week, unless you are chosen for a complicated trial. In some cases, it may involve weeks or months. If you are required to serve on a jury, your employer must give you the time off. In almost all provinces, however, the employer does not have to pay your wages, unless it is part of your employment contract or collective agreement.
Whether you are compensated for jury duty, by the Ontario Government, will depend on the amount of time you serve as a juror and how far you live from the courthouse. As a juror, you will not be paid or provided with any meals for the first 10 days you serve. On the 11th day of jury duty, you will receive $40 per day until the 50th day, at which point the amount will be increased to $100 per day for the rest of the trial. The court is normally in session from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. daily, and jurors are permitted to go home at night. If you are required to stay late or overnight, accommodation and meals will usually be provided. As well, a travel allowance is paid for jurors who live more than 40 kms from the courthouse and who live outside city limits. Such individuals will be paid a daily travel expense once they begin serving as a juror.
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. You should forward such a request in writing, along with any documentation you have relevant to your request, to the court office, as soon as possible. A judge will decide if you may be excused based on the seriousness of your situation.
For additional information about jury duty, contact a courthouse in your area or, online at the Ministry of the Attorney General.
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