With the ordered shutdown of non-essential businesses back in March, many courts in Ontario ceased operations with the exception of urgent family and criminal matters. In recent weeks the courts have been resuming services, however, jury trials were expected to remain on hold indefinitely due to the difficulty in managing a jury trial in light of social distancing protocols, which are still in effect. Despite this assumption, it seems as though jury trials may resume sooner than originally thought.
Potential Jurors Called to Service in August
According to an article published in the Toronto Star at the end of August, potential jurors began to receive summons last month, calling them to appear in person for jury selection. While some who received the letters took to social media to complain about the potential for infection, it appears that the Justice Department plans to move forward with resuming jury trials in an effort to clear some of the backlog created by the COVID-19 interruption.
In preparation to resume jury trials, the Department of Justice (DOJ) created a number of tips to limit exposure and potential infection. While normally potential jurors would be in close contact at a courthouse for jury selection, the documentation prepared by the DOJ includes holding jury selection at alternative locations that allow for more space between individuals, such as conference centres and sports complexes. Those who have received summons recently in the Toronto area have been asked to report to the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.
Some Members of the Legal Community are Wary
While the DOJ looks to move forward with resuming juries, some litigators remain unconvinced this is a good idea. Some have noted that expert witnesses in forensic matters have joined trials via teleconference technology, citing the risks of appearing in person. Another concern is how potential new safety protocols might inhibit a lawyer’s ability to read a jury properly.
During jury selection, potential jurors are sometimes asked questions pertaining to bias, to assess whether they would be able to judge a matter impartially. There is concern that if jurors are wearing masks, which they very well may be during this process, it will be difficult to read their faces and interpret physical cues, which can be just as informative as verbal responses.
In addition, there is concern that juries will be placed in the spectator seating rather than the traditional jury bench, in order to allow for greater distance between the jurors. As lawyers in a jury trial often watch juries for reactions to key points in an argument, or to judge how a witness is being received, placing a jury behind the lawyers is of great concern to many litigators.
A jury trial in Brampton recently resumed after pausing for six months. Rather than placing all 12 jurors in the jury box, only 3 sat there, while the rest were spread out around the courtroom, with three seated in the public section behind the lawyers. This is for a criminal matter, as most jury trials are expected to be for the interim. With some defendants jailed for the duration of their trials, these are the most important matters to move forward with for now. Jury trials in civil matters will likely remain postponed for the time being.
Seek Advice from an Experienced Civil Litigation Lawyer for Advice on Moving a Matter Forward
Despite the fact that civil jury trials will likely remain suspended for the time being, it is advisable that any party with a potential civil action seek the advice of a lawyer quickly to protect their interests. Our litigation lawyers can provide sound advice on timing requirements and advise on other possible methods for resolution in order to move a matter along in the meantime.
The lawyers at Prudent Law in Mississauga are trusted advocates in any type of civil litigation. We provide practical advice and passionate representation in both litigation and alternative dispute resolution options. If you are facing a legal dispute and you’d like to discuss it with one of our experienced litigation lawyers, please call us at 905-361-9789 or contact us online.