Jury Trials: Cost, Controversy and Secret Powers.

AuthorDavison, Charles
PositionFeature: Juries in Canada

In the first part of this discussion about juries, I explained some basic points: why we have jury trials and how we decide who should be on a jury. Now, I will discuss some of the more controversial aspects to juries, and will focus on three areas:

* the costs of (including delays associated with) jury trials and government efforts to limit their use as a result;

* controversies surrounding the selection process; and

* the "secret" power of juries to make any decision they want.


Compared to "judge alone" trials, jury trials are expensive. They usually take longer to conclude and require more court resources. They require the 12 persons selected as jurors to be away from work, school, and household and childcare duties, which can mean both personal financial hardship and a cost to employers. Sometimes jurors receive a small daily stipend to help alleviate hardship. Once deliberations begin jurors cannot separate, which means that, in addition to meals, they must also be provided with overnight hotel accommodations until a verdict is rendered. All of that costs the state money.

There is usually more delay involved with jury proceedings than those with a judge sitting alone. Since the summer of 2016, when the Supreme Court of Canada set out new rules to protect the rights of accused persons to "trial within a reasonable time", governments and the courts have become extremely sensitive to anything which might cause undue delay in the proceedings. The Supreme Court said superior court matters--which include jury trials--must be finished within 30 months of the laying of charges. Meeting this deadline is a significant challenge in many parts of the country due to the caseloads of the courts and judges. Where a prosecution takes longer than 30 months, a judge may enter stay (end) the proceedings without a final decision about the guilt of the accused.

For all of these reasons, governments always seem to be seeking ways by which they can limit the rights of Canadians to have a trial by jury. At this time, Parliament is considering removing the choice of a jury trial in many cases where this option has been available. Because our Constitution guarantees the right to a jury trial where the possible punishment is five years imprisonment or longer, the proposed law will increase the number of offences where the Crown prosecutor has the option of treating the charge as a less serious offence punishable by a term of less than five years. These...

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