Trial Counsel for Law Firms

An Overview of the Juries Act

Fall civil trial sittings are about to get underway in several jurisdictions across Ontario.  This is a time of year when the Juries Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. J.3 comes into play.

The key section of interest to lawyers is section 20, which says that a lawyer can get a copy of the jury panel list 10 days before trial upon payment of $2.  How to select a jury using the jury panel list is discussed here: How to Select a Jury.

Highlights of the Juries Act are outlined below.

Juror Eligibility

  • Must be 18 years old, an Ontario resident and Canadian citizen.
  • Cannot be a politician, Judge, lawyer, doctor or police officer.
  • Not have been convicted of an indictable offence for which a pardon has not been obtained.

Jury Rolls

  • The Sheriff figures out how many jurors are needed annually.
  • The Director of Assessment, under the Assessments Act, selects jurors at random and sends them jury service notices, which must be completed and returned within 5 days.
  • The Juries Act says that if there is an Indian reserve, selection is from “any record available”.  How this is implemented in practice is unclear.
  • Based on responses to the jury service notices, the Sheriff creates a jury roll, which may include names from preceding years.
  • Each juror receives a number in the creation of the jury roll.  This is the jury roll number.

Jury Panels

  • A Judge directs the Sheriff to draft a panel of jurors, which is done by ballot from the jury roll, in the presence of a Justice of the Peace.
  • The panel list is arranged alphabetically, with place of residence and occupation, as well as the jury roll number.
  • The drafting of a panel can be automated.
  • A criminal record check is done.
  • Jurors are summonsed at least 21 days in advance and the Sheriff may excuse jurors who are ill or where service would cause serious hardship, but unless a Judge directs otherwise, a person excused may be called for a later trial sittings.
  • As indicated above, the jury panel is available to lawyers 10 days in advance.  The jury panel list includes a panel list number, a roll number, name, address and occupation.
  • A juror can be excused if service as a juror is incompatible with religious beliefs.

Empanelling a Jury at Trial

  • Cards or pieces of paper are created that have the panel list number, name, address and occupation.  The cards go into a container to be drawn.
  • The clerk shall shall shake the container sufficiently to mix the names and draw the cards or paper.  Or this can be automated for a civil proceeding.
  • The jury can be selected anytime before the trial.
  • A Judge can direct the Sheriff to round up jurors as necessary.

Challenges

  • In a civil proceeding, the plaintiff or plaintiffs on one side and defendant or defendants on the other side, may challenge peremptorily any four jurors draw.
  • Where a municipality is a party, every ratepayer or employee of the municipality is subject to challenge.

Juror Pay

  • Pursuant to Regulation 4 under the Administration of Justice Act, jurors are paid $40 per day after 10 days of service and $100 per day after 49 days of service.  Travel is only paid if the juror lives more than 40 km away.  The rate is 30.5 cents for northern Ontario and 30 cents for southern Ontario.
  • Employers must grant a leave of absence without pay.

Offences and Contempt

  • It is an offence to tamper with a jury roll or jury panel.  It is an offence if the Sheriff, Court Clerk or Court Registrar fails to perform any of their duties.
  • Failure to complete a jury service notice is an offence, punishable by up to $5,000 and/or 6 months imprisonment.
  • It is contempt of Court to be summonsed as a juror and not attend or leave early.
  • Speaking with a juror about the case is considered tampering with the jury and is contempt of Court.  A lawyer can be disbarred for doing so.
  • Employers who threaten employees can be fined up to $10,000 and/or imprisoned for 3 months.
  • The Criminal Code contains provisions for obstructing justice for example threatening or bribing a juror or seeking or accepting a bribe if a juror.

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