A jury summons is the envelope that no one wants to open. Though the task may seem daunting, civil duty can be rewarding. Here are some tips that will help illuminate sitting as a juror and help you better understand how it all works.
Why a Jury Trial?
The general rule for civil (non-criminal) matters is that the trial is to be heard by judge alone unless a party gives notice that they want the case to be decided by a jury. Jury trials are an important part of democracy and our criminal and civil systems of justice.
In our experience insurance companies often try and manipulate the jury system by filing jury notices on certain types of cases or with certain types of claimants, including disproportionately low income earners, people with a complicated history of mental or physical health issues, minorities or victims who don’t speak English as their first language, as well as car accident cases where the collision vehicles have modest or little visible crush damage.
For decades ICBC and other insurance companies have done their best to cultivate the public perception that people in our community cannot suffer serious injury unless there is a lot of visible crush damage to the collision vehicles, notwithstanding all the engineering and medical evidence that people can be gravely injured in the absence of a lot physical damage to a car, especially for example in the context of bumper to bumper rear-end impacts where despite often violent forces, the vehicles don’t look badly damaged.
One of the other current problems we often see in our current jury system is that jury members do not always fairly reflect the make-up of our community. Few normal working people can afford to miss several days or weeks of work only to receive a small allowance ($20 a day for the first 10 days; $60 per day for 11 to 49 days; and $100 per day for trials lasting 50 days or longer). The result is that many single mothers or fathers, middle class or working class people do their best to be exempted from the jury because of financial strain or child care constraints. Few employers these days provide their employees with “top-up” pay for jury duty.
Other times though we select a trial by jury because we think eight jurors are best suited to hear our client’s case. Jurors are uniquely suited to hear cases that involve common sense and where findings of honesty and credibility on the part of our client are especially important. In other instances trials cannot be conveniently heard by a jury, including cases that will take weeks and weeks to be heard or cases involving complex legal or scientific inquiries that are better suited to a judge alone trial because the judge, unlike a jury, can reserve judgment and think about all the evidence and the law over a period of several months. Juries are obliged to deliberate right after the case closes and pronounce judgment right after their deliberations.
I Received a Jury Summons. Now what do I do?
British Columbians are randomly selected to receive Jury Summons from the Province’s registered voters list. Receiving a Jury Summons can be exciting but it can also represent a big hardship to you and your family. Just because you receive a summons though does not mean you will actually sit on a jury. A number of steps occur long before you’re actually required to be a jury in a civil or criminal trial. A very helpful and informative link from the Attorney General’s website outlines the complete process for jury duty:
You are disqualified from jury duty pursuant to the Jury Act and its Regulations if you are:
- not a Canadian citizen;
- not a resident in British Columbia;
- under the age of majority;
- a court official;
- a sheriff or sheriff’s officer;
- a peace officer;
- a judge, justice or court referee;
- a barrister or solicitor;
- a member or officer of the Parliament of Canada or of the Privy Council of Canada;
- a member or officer of the legislature or of the executive council
- an employee of the Department of Justice or of the Solicitor General of Canada;
- an employee of the British Columbia Ministry of Justice with the exception of employees of that ministry who work in the Liquor Distribution Branch;
- an employee of the Legal Services Society or of a funded agency as defined by the Legal Services Society Act;
- a warden, correctional officer or person employed in a penitentiary, prison, correctional institution or youth custody centre;
- a person convicted of an offence under the Criminal Code or the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (Canada) for whom a record suspension has not been granted under the Criminal Records Act (Canada);
- currently charged with an offence under the Criminal Code or the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (Canada);
- or a member of a class of persons prescribed by regulation; and
- subject to a mental or physical infirmity incompatible with the discharge of the duties of a juror.
You are also entitled under the Jury Act to request an exemption based on a number of other grounds which you must direct to the Sherriff’s Office. Exemption requests should be made right away, and you can do so online. Exemptions or discretionary exemptions can include:
- You are 65 or older;
- You are active military service personnel;
- You heave health issues that compromise your ability to be a juror;
- You are a full-time student;
- Your religion or religious beliefs compromise your ability to serve as a juror;
- You would suffer extreme hardship (for example financial hardship to your or your family;);
- You have travel or vacation plans during the scheduled trial dates;
- You are limited in speaking or writing in English.
If the exemption request is refused by the sheriff’s office, you must attend at the BC Supreme Court and apply to the presiding trial judge for an exemption.
The Jury Selection Process for a Civil Trial
Civil trials involve one party suing another for damages or other relief. In JMR Law’s area of practice, this generally means our injured client is suing another insured driver, likely by ICBC in our jurisdiction. As a term of the defendant(s)’ insurance contract, the insurer has full care and conduct of the defense, with little or no input from the actual driver at fault for the claimant’s injuries and losses. In civil jury trials, there are eight jurors.
The selection process for a civil trial begins in a courtroom with the jury pool, lawyers from our firm and lawyers appointed and instructed by the insurance company along with a judge, the court clerk, as well as Sheriffs. The trial judge will tell everyone how long the trial will last and the names of all the witnesses are supposed to be read for each side of the case to ensure you don’t know any of them. Thereafter, the court clerk will begin the selection process by randomly drawing names from a box until 15 to 20 people are called forward. At this point jury screening occurs involving the judge and the jury and it is here that prospective jurors can seek an exemption directly from the trial judge. If that exemption is denied, then lawyers for either side are entitled to challenge a jury for no reason (called “peremptory challenges”) or for “cause”. Each side is entitled to four peremptory challenges. If a juror is challenged for cause, the challenging party must explain why to the judge. Challenges for cause are usually because the person is not qualified under the Jury Act or the person is not impartial (for example if their job was as an insurance adjuster for ICBC). The party challenging a jury for bias must lead evidence to the trial judge about why a juror should stand down.
What Happens if I am selected as a Juror?
Once both the plaintiff and the defense say “content” to a juror, that juror is sworn by the registrar and he or she takes his place in the jury box. Once all eight jurors have been properly sworn, the trial judge will tell the jury they should choose a foreperson and the hours they can expect to sit in court. Generally a court day lasts from 10:00AM to 4:00PM with a morning a break at 11:00AM, a lunch break from 12:30PM to 2:00PM and then a brief afternoon break. A short adjournment is then called so that all jurors can contact employers and family.
After the adjournment, the substance of the trial begins. First the trial judge will give open comments and instructions to the jury about their role in the trial process, the division of responsibility between the judge and the jury and other matters. The judge instructs the jury on the law and the jury must always accept those instructions. Juries are the “triers of fact”. They make findings in personal injury cases usually relating to fault for the accident (“liability”), and the amount of damages payable to the injured party. Most importantly, jurors are told they should make their findings of fact based only on the evidence they have heard in the courtroom, and not from outside sources like the internet, the media or friends or family. At the end of the day, the jury needs only agree to the answers to a set of questions given to them by the judge.
After the judge delivers his or her charge to the jury, the lawyer for the injured victim will give an opening submission. This is not evidence but an overview of the case. Thereafter witnesses and other forms of evidence will be introduced by the plaintiff’s lawyers “in chief.” At the end of the Plaintiff’s case, the defense will open their case, often with much fewer witnesses. The insurance lawyers get to cross examine each of the claimant’s witnesses and when our case is closed, we also get to cross examine the witnesses called on behalf of the defense. Once both parties have concluded the evidence, the lawyers for the injured victim and the defense will give closing arguments and then the judge will give his final charge and instruct the jury on the questions they must answer. From there the jury deliberates until they can answer all the judges questions on liability and/or the amount of money payable to the claimant.