Jury | The Canadian Encyclopedia



Jury, a group of citizens summoned by law to render verdict on a question submitted in a court of justice.


Jury, a group of citizens summoned by law to render verdict on a question submitted in a court of justice. Originally, jurors testified too and decided issues on the basis of their own community knowledge, but since the admission of sworn testimony, jury verdicts have been based on evidence submitted at the trial. Statute governs the right to jury trial. In criminal cases, summary and minor indictable offences are tried without jury (seeMAGISTRATE). Serious offences - eg, murder, treason, sedition and hijacking - require trial by jury in a superior court, although such charges may be tried without jury with the consent of the accused and the attorney general. With many less serious indictable offences, the accused may elect jury trial. In civil proceedings (proceedings governed by provincial statutes), parties may elect to dispense with the jury except in cases involving libel, slander, seduction, malicious arrest or prosecution and false imprisonment. Even in those cases the jury may be dispensed with if both sides agree (in fact, juries in civil trials are becoming the exception), and in highly complicated and technical cases, and in some instances where the assessment of damages is involved, the courts frequently refuse a jury trial.

Selection of Juries

Because provinces are responsible for the constitution and selection of juries, qualifications vary from province to province. Normally, all Canadian citizens between ages 18 and 65 or 69 who do not suffer mental or physical handicaps that might impede the performance of their duty and who have not been convicted of an indictable offence are qualified to serve as jurors. Certain classes of persons (and occasionally their spouses) are exempt, including members of the Privy Council, provincial Cabinets, the Senate, the House of Commons and provincial legislatures, lawyers, law students, judges, police, law-enforcement officers, clergy, doctors, dentists, veterinarians in active practice and employees of some essential services.

Jury lists (arrays) are prepared annually from a random selection of names from the county assessment roles or voters' lists. In Manitoba, Québec and NB the use of either official language in the courts is an entrenched right, and in many other areas the accused has the right to trial by a jury speaking his or her official language.

The county SHERIFF is responsible for the summoning and attendance of the jury. Persons normally qualified to serve may be excused on the grounds of illness or if undue hardship would result.

The jury in criminal cases comprises 12 jurors, except in the Yukon and the NWT, where there are 6. The jury's verdict must be unanimous and based on evidence presented in court. If, after a reasonable time, there appears to be no hope of a jury reaching agreement (a "hung" jury), the judge may call for a new jury or set the case for retrial. Fewer jurors (usually 6) are required in civil cases, and unanimity is not necessary; it is sufficient that 5 agree. In criminal cases, the number of jurors may be reduced to 10 or more because of death or discharge of one or more jurors and the jury will still be able to give a verdict.

Grand Juries

The grand jury was the forerunner of the petit jury. The grand jury decided whether reasonable grounds existed for sending a case to trial. If so, it brought in a "true bill." Qualifications for grand jurors were the same as those for petit jurors. The grand jury has been abolished in Canada.

"A Premium Upon Ignorance"
The jury in criminal cases has historically been regarded as the "foundation of our free institutions," although others have said it "puts a ban upon intelligence and honesty, and a premium upon ignorance and stupidity and perjury." Most surveys on the value of the criminal jury have supported its retention with minor changes, but juries in civil trials are becoming the exception, mostly as a consequence of the extra costs and time involved and the more complex and technical nature of the cases.

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