Incidents like last week’s jury scoop in London, Ont., will likely happen again, a Toronto criminal defence lawyer is warning.
The problem, says Marcy Segal, is the prevailing attitude towards jury duty. “Unfortunately, in this day and age, most citizens are tied to their jobs in order to pay their mortgages or bills. So I have seen a number of citizens either not appearing for jury duty or asking to be excused for work reasons or serious health issues.”
The result, she says, is that people don’t want to be jurors. “We are losing jurors for all of these reasons. Therefore, it may become more common for a judge to ask the deputy to find potential jurors.”
The comments come as Ontario Superior Court Justice Kelly Gorman raised eyebrows last week when she ordered the sheriff to round up potential jurors off the street. According to the London Free Press, Gorman took advantage of a rarely used provision in the Criminal Code in order to fill a jury seat after coming up one person short of the panel needed to hear a case against three men charged with assault, threats, and forcible confinement.
The sheriff went out to find 20 people, including Scott Johnston, chief information officer at Harrison Pensa LLP in London, Ont. Most of them appeared the next day, and the court was able to assemble the full panel, the Free Press reported. But after the accused pleaded guilty, the court no longer needed the jurors’ services.
For Segal, the incident highlights the challenges of the current system as well as the public’s sometimes contradictory attitudes given people’s reluctance to serve as jurors.
“Quite frankly, the citizens demand that the justice system work,” she says. “Their participation is crucial and there needs to be more respect for the process by the citizens. I think that being a juror is one of the most important functions as a citizen. They should welcome it.”
Johnston, however, in commentary in the Free Press on the weekend, expressed concerns about the way officials handled last week’s roundup. Noting he had a train ticket to go to Toronto the next day for important work, he likened the officers’ treatment of him to bullying. “It was a darkened street corner, it was a stranger who approached me, the person pointed something at me and told me not to leave, a second person moved in closer in what I interpreted as further intimidation, I was stripped of my privacy and freedom on the spot and I was left feeling cheated, angered, and confused,” he wrote.
Johnston said that while he supports the jury system, he would prefer that the sheriff take the person’s hardship into consideration or have the right to do so. He also said the sheriff should provide an explanation for the sudden roundup, something he said didn’t happen in his case.