While the Ontario government is promising to fix errors on the juror questionnaire, the Ministry of the Attorney General has confirmed it’s too late to do it for next year.
According to ministry spokesman Brendan Crawley, “the questionnaire and instruction sheet can only be changed by a formal regulation amendment. Each year, jury questionnaires are sent out starting in September as the first step in compiling the next year’s jury roll. Because the Juries Act requires the questionnaires to be mailed out each year by Oct. 31, the questionnaires for the 2016 jury roll have already been sent out. 560,924 forms were sent out.”
While most people with a criminal record wouldn’t be eligible to sit on a jury, the forms provide for 20 exceptions. However, three of those listed acceptable offences do in fact bar potential candidates from serving, so people who have been correctly filling out the form since 2010 amendments to the Juries Act may have incorrectly served as jurors. Those amendments prohibited those convicted of hybrid offences from serving but in the meantime, at least three of the offences that don’t automatically disqualify someone have become hybrid offences: impersonating a police officer, committing an indecent act, and making indecent or repeated phone calls.
“The ministry will be taking steps to amend the questionnaire to remove these three offences,” said Crawley.
“It’s not surprising they can’t change the form. I think it just went out this month,” says Scott Bergman, a criminal defence lawyer at Cooper Sandler Shime & Bergman LLP.
The error means some people who have been filling out the form correctly since the 2010 amendments to the Juries Act may have wrongfully served as jurors.
“If I didn’t realize that I wasn’t properly allowed to be part of a jury pool, I could end up on a jury [and] I never should have been on a jury,” says Bergman.
The Ontario government, however, has noted that the jury roll form is only one of the steps taken in the jury selection process. Once a jury is selected, an officer is authorized to randomly conduct criminal record checks on jury panel members and remove those who are ineligible.
As a result, Bergman says the process limits the potential for problems. “You can still ask them questions about their criminal record, I would think, to ensure that they still qualify,” he says.
While the government is unable to amend the forms right away, Crawley noted it’s working on notifying prospective jurors.
“So for as long as this issue or that wording in the questionnaire remains, I think what they would have to do is alert each of the actual individuals who are brought into the courthouse that there are certain offences that they may have answered one way [but] in fact it wasn’t accurate or was incorrect,” says Bergman.
“They need to find a way to do that in a fair and also a discreet way.”