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What is jury duty?

Region: Ontario Answer # 7750

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.

The legislation regulating jury duty in Ontario is the Juries Act.

What types of cases have a jury?

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. However, there may be cases in which a person charged with a criminal offence for which there can be a prison sentence of less than five years may have the right to choose 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,
  • at least 18 years of age, 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 several occupations that make an individual exempt from jury duty, such as those actively employed as or licensed as a medical practitioner, members of the Canadian Forces, police, lawyers and law students, and firefighters. For a complete list of who is exempt from jury duty, view 7751 Who can and who cannot be called 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 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 questionnaire asks specific questions to determine if you qualify for jury duty, including:

  • are you physically or mentally unable to serve as a juror, and
  • have you been convicted of a certain type of criminal offence (view ontario.ca for information on Criminal Code offences and eligibility for jury duty)

Even if you are ineligible for jury duty because of your occupation, you must still complete and return the jury questionnaire. 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.

Under section 38(3) the 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.

Jury selection


Once you complete and mail the juror questionnaire, if are eligible for jury duty, you may receive a summons in the mail up-to three years after completing the questionnaire.

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. You are required to attend as a jury panel member for a minimum of one day or up-to a maximum of one week.

If you receive a summons for jury duty, you must meet at the location, date and time on the summons, where each potential juror is given a number that appears on a ballot card. Court staff randomly select ballot cards, and if you are selected, you will be given instructions about what to do next.

Under section 39 of the Ontario Juries Act, anyone who fails to appear (without reasonable grounds) after receiving a summons may be found in contempt of court.

What if you are not selected for jury duty?

If you receive a summons but are not selected for jury duty:

  • You may be asked to return the next day.
  • You aren’t eligible for jury duty for the next three years (this is the case whether you are selected or not),
  • You may receive another jury questionnaire. If you receive one within three years of your service, you still need to complete and return the questionnaire.

As a Canadian citizen, it is your civic duty to respond to a jury summons and, if chosen, to serve as a juror.

Serving as a juror

Once you are chosen as a juror for the trial, the judge will give instructions and provide information such as how long the trial is estimated to last. The court is normally in session from 10:00 a.m. until 4:30 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.

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.

As a juror, you not allowed to:

  • read or watch the news related to the trial
  • post information relating to the trial on social media
  • have devices such as cell phones, laptops or tablets

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. Provincial governments do compensate jurors. More information is available from 7753 Do you get paid for jury duty?

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. View 7752 Can you refuse jury duty? for more information

Free counselling

Ontario offers free counselling to jurors through the Juror Support Program. The Program is confidential and available to jurors once they complete jury duty on a criminal trial, a civil trial or a Coroner’s inquest.

Bill S-206 Act to amend the Criminal Code (disclosure of information by jurors)

Under Bill S-206 Act to amend the Criminal Code (disclosure of information by jurors), which became law in January 2023, jurors in Canada are allowed to disclose information about jury proceedings to health-care professionals. This includes those providing medical or psychiatric treatment, therapy or counselling to former jurors.

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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