Western update: B.C., Manitoba tackle civil juries, juror compensation

B.C. considers whether to continue with, limit or abolish civil jury trials

Western update: B.C., Manitoba tackle civil juries, juror compensation

British Columbia has opened a public consultation, running from Aug. 19 to Sept. 30, to consider implementing measures relating to civil juries, with a view to supporting courts and those who use them.

The province is considering three options: continuing with civil jury trials, with or without changes to  law and practice; restricting such trials to particular cases such as defamation, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution; or abolishing jury trials in civil matters. The public consultations build upon the BC Law Institute’s report on civil jury trials, made at the request of the B.C. Ministry of Attorney General, according to the ministry’s news release.

The provincial government plans to use the insights gathered as it works with the judiciary to advance access to justice and strengthen the justice system. B.C. suspended jury trials in March 2020 to ensure the safety of court users and minimize the effects of delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last March, B.C. announced that it would be extending the suspension of civil jury trials — with judge-alone trials to be conducted instead — until Oct. 8, 2022. Plaintiffs and defendants are not permitted to adjourn their cases to a future date so that a jury can hear their matter, except if otherwise directed by the court. Criminal jury trials resumed on Sept. 8, 2020.

The news release noted that, across the country, provinces have differed in their approach to civil jury trials, with some provinces making the trials widely available, with few requirements, while others imposed restrictions such as being limited to cases of defamation.

In Manitoba, Justice Minister Cameron Friesen has announced the proclamation of a section of the Court Practice and Administration Act that will allow for an increase in juror compensation. These amendments to the Jury Act, which were enacted when Bill 46 received assent in the legislature on May 20, came into force on Aug. 20. Changes were also made to the jury regulation under the legislation.

“These changes ensure that those who serve on our juries are more fairly compensated for their investment of time,” said Friesen in a news release.

The amendments would raise  juror compensation to $80 daily, to ensure that jurors receive compensation for their attendance starting on the jury trial’s first day and to increase juror diversity. People with disabilities that can be reasonably accommodated and those with criminal records involving only summary convictions can now serve on juries.

“These changes make it clear that Manitobans with disabilities are included in the jury trial system in Manitoba,” said Rochelle Squires, the province’s families minister and minister responsible for accessibility, in the press release.

More broadly, the changes seek to improve access to justice and fairness in Manitoba courts and to advance the goals of the province’s Criminal Justice System Modernization Strategy to promote the timeliness, effectiveness and consistency of criminal cases.

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