So You’ve Received A Jury Notice, Now What?
So, you’ve received a civil jury notice in the mail to attend at an Ontario Superior courthouse for jury duty. Now what? While you may consider doing as Liz Lemon did in 30 Rock–Dressing up like Princess Leah, going to court and convincing the judge that you’re not fit to sit on a jury—Don’t. And banish the thought of not showing up. The presiding judge will issue a bench warrant for your arrest. You will then be called to court to answer why you did not show up and find yourself on the next jury list.
But don’t dismay. Jury duty presents us with a unique and meaningful opportunity to give back to our community. It is one of your civic duties as a citizen of Canada. Our justice system depends on it: It operates as a check or counterbalance to governmental influence. In civil litigation it injects the good conscience of the community into the courtroom. Duty aside, most jurors report that being a juror and delivering a verdict was a rewarding experience.
Every year the Newmarket courthouse holds two trial sittings, one in the spring, and another in the fall. During each of the three week long sittings, the court conducts as many trials as is possible, with as many judges as are available at that time.
So what actually happens at jury selection? Approximately 500 jurors show up at the time and date on the notice form, and gather in a large room to listen to opening remarks by the presiding judge, and to watch an information video about being a juror.
Sometimes jurors cannot fulfill their duty for a variety of reasons. Jurors will be invited to tell the judge why. The presiding judge will excuse potential jurors, but they must have compelling reasons to do so, letters confirming the legitimate reason help. Often those excused are asked to return the next spring or fall.
After that, the lawyers will read aloud the names of all witnesses participating in the trial, after which the court will invite jurors to announce if they know any of the witnesses or parties. If that happens, you will return to the body of the court room and may still be selected to be a juror on another trial.
Next, its time for juror bingo. The court registrar selects six jurors names from a spinning drum, and calls upon the jurors to take their positions in the jury box. After names are called the jury is said to be empanelled, and the court will invite the lawyers to exercise their rights to excuse particular jurors. Each side gets four challenges. If you are challenged and removed from the jury panel, don’t take it personally. Lawyers often have strategic reasons for challenging certain jurors. For example, an engineer may be excused from a case based heavily on engineering evidence, for fear that the other five jurors may defer to the engineer, making it a jury of one instead of six.
Once the jury is empanelled and the selection process is over, jurors will be sent to the jury room, and called upon when the parties are ready to start the trial. Sometimes the trials don’t get reached by the court, and the jurors get released. You will only have to come back if you get another jury notice.
If your trial does proceed, know that the court is sympathetic to your childcare needs, and typically only sits between 9:30 am and 4:30 pm. If there are significant scheduling issues, the judge can be addressed to see what scheduling accommodations can be made.
Trials start with opening remarks to help provide you with a roadmap to the case you are about to hear. Most of your time will be spent listening to evidence from witnesses. The trial will finish with closing remarks and argument by the lawyers.
This is where the hard, but important work of the jury starts. You will be the “trier of fact” and it will be your job to make up your mind about the truth and honesty of the evidence from various witnesses. You may be asked to determine whether a party is at fault, and if so, what amount of damages to award to the plaintiff. At the end, you will have learned a great deal about the civil process, and have a sense of pride for your contribution. We’ll see you there!