Jury Selection: An Inside View


Have you ever been summoned to serve on a jury – or wondered what would happen if you were? A member of the Éducaloi team recently received such a call-in. Her real-world experience illustrates what you might expect if you ever receive one.  

The background

An Éducaloi team member – who is neither a lawyer nor a notary – received a thick brown envelope by mail. It indicated she was being summoned to appear at the Montreal courthouse. The documents inside included her designation as a candidate to serve on a jury, a notice informing her of when and where to present herself, and a form to fill out if she wished to request an exemption or ask to postpone to a later date.

The documents mentioned, in bold print, that it was mandatory for her to appear, that she had to confirm her personal information, and that exceptions to the obligation of jury service were limited. The documents also mentioned that her signature was “deemed to have been made under oath”, meaning it had the force of a sworn declaration.

It was therefore mandatory for her to go to room 5.15 of the Montreal Courthouse on the date mentioned in the notice. Once there, she had to follow the instructions of the judge, the bailiff and the sheriff.

Can anyone be summoned to serve on a jury?

Almost. The summons is sent by mail to people chosen at random whose names are on the provincial voter’s list. This means they must be Canadian citizens. About 150 people were called in for the same trial as the Éducaloi team member. Only 12 were selected by the judge to serve on the jury. Two people were also chosen as substitute jurors in case one of the jury members became unable to serve.

Important: when a person receives a summons they must appear at the courthouse at the specified time and date, or they could receive a fine. For people about to become Canadian citizens, this obligation is mentioned just before they take the oath of citizenship.

Must Jury members be fluent in French and English?

Not necessarily. It all depends on the case. A jury may be unilingual in the sense that all members can speak the same language, whether English or French (even if some jury members are bilingual). The Criminal Code of Canada guarantees the right to a criminal trial in English, even though French is the official language of Quebec. If the trial will be before a jury, the accused can ask that the jury be English-speaking. A person who speaks neither French nor English can be disqualified from jury duty.

Can you be exempted if your spouse suffers from a health problem?

Yes. In fact, that came up in the selection process in which the Éducaloi team member participated. The judge granted the exemption in response to the concerns of a candidate. An exemption can be granted if serving on a jury would excessively disturb your daily life because, for example, you are the caregiver for a person who requires daily assistance for a mental health problem. Other exemptions may be granted based on a person’s occupation or other circumstances.

Important: A practicing lawyer or notary cannot serve on a jury. The same goes for a firefighter or a person accused of, or found guilty of, an indictable offence. Some people are ineligible to serve on a jury because of their spouse’s profession. Because the summonses are sent out randomly, a person may receive one even if they are ineligible to serve on a jury. They will then have to explain why they cannot serve.

Will everyone know I have received a summons?

No. Potential jurors are chosen randomly, and each juror’s name is linked to a number that will follow them throughout the selection process. No one can reveal the list of potential jurors before it is filed in court. In addition, at the start of the selection process, the judge may order you not to communicate any information about the case in question — whether it be the type of case, the name of the accused or the identities of any victims. In deciding whether to issue such an order, the judge may consider the severity of the crime and the degree of media attention the case has received. The objective is to head off anything that could have a negative impact on the trial. 

The stages of the selection process

If the bailiff calls your number, you will appear before the judge. The prosecuting attorney, the accused person and their attorney (if they have one), and the court clerk will all be present in the courtroom.

A few minutes before, you will be given a paper with questions about the case to prepare yourself to answer. It’s the judge who decides if you will serve on the jury. They will decide based on your answers to the questions you are asked.

For example, in a sexual assault case, you will be asked if you have an opinion about this type of crime. The same may happen in a case of conjugal violence or infanticide. You will also be asked if you are related to the accused or anyone else involved in the trial. The aim is to ensure that you are completely neutral and able to consider the facts that will be revealed during the trial in an impartial manner.

During your appearance before the judge, you can raise any issues that would prevent you from serving on the jury. You should do this in a way that does not identify you because the jury selection process is anonymous. Your identity and that of your employer must remain confidential. After your appearance, you will learn whether you have been granted an exemption and, if not, whether you have been selected to serve on the jury.

The dramatic ending: the judge exempted the Éducaloi team member from serving on the jury. The judge was concerned that her knowledge of the law could influence other members of the jury… because she works at Éducaloi!