Legal Studies 3080

Putting a Jury Together

Has anyone in your family - or anyone else you know - ever been required to serve on a jury? Most people get through their lives without having to undertake this task, but it is something that can happen to most adults at any time; it is a fact of life you should be aware of.

Just how are juries put together? The first step in selecting the members of a jury for criminal trials is to make a list of possible jurors for that particular session of court,. The process involved in this varies from province to province. Generally, court officials like sheriffs and court clerks put together a list of possible names. They use a variety of sources for their list - things like voter registrations and lists of healthcare  beneficiaries. Whatever sources are used, however, the process is done randomly and, nowadays, with computers. 

The next step is for the court to issue an order for a jury to be selected (or empanelled ) for the trial - 12 people in the case of criminal trials. About 75 to 100 potential jurors are sent a summons stating the date, time, and place they are required to appear. If you are given a summons for jury duty, you are obligated by law to comply; if you do not, you can be found guilty of contempt of court and punished with a fine or even a jail sentence.

What if you do not want to serve on a jury? Is there anything you can do about it? In the first place, you may be automatically excluded on one of several grounds. Here are a few examples:

  • Age. No one who is under 18 years old - the age of majority - can serve as a juror.
  • Citizenship. Non-Canadian citizens can't serve on a jury.
  • Profession. Doctors, lawyers, judges, and law enforcement officers are some of the people excluded because of their profession.
  • Ability. People who are seriously visually impaired or who have a disability that would affect their ability to serve effectively on a jury are disqualified, though civil rights legislation ensures that potential jurors are not unfairly discriminated against.
  • Convictions. No one convicted of an indictable offence can be a juror.
  • Previous service. Anyone who has served on a jury in the last two or three years is excluded.

But even if you don't fit into any of these categories, you may still be excluded from jury duty even if you have been put on a list. The selection of a jury is a task that both the accused (and his or her lawyer) and the Crown take very seriously. Neither side wants anybody on the jury it feels might be prejudiced or unlikely to give that side a fair hearing. In criminal cases the accused is present when the jury is selected, and he or she, along with the defence counsel, is allowed to challenge the jurors as they are selected. So, too, can the Crown. This makes jury selection a slow process, but it helps ensure that a group of people acceptable to each side is chosen.