When the summons for jury duty landed in my mailbox in June, I have to admit my first response was a groan. I thought about the negative impact serving on a jury might have on my life: disruption to my plans, the inconvenience of travelling to the courthouse every day, and the potential distress (especially if I was selected for a horrible criminal case).
I read the jury duty summons carefully and then went online to learn how to get out of it! It turns out I had no valid reason to be excused. Jury duty wouldn’t cause me undue hardship, or affect my income, travel plans, or schooling. My English comprehension is good and so is my hearing. I have no health issues that would make it impossible for me to be in the courtroom.
I resigned myself to attending the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in late July.
As my jury duty date grew closer however, my negative attitude began to change. My curiosity got the better of me! What would the experience be like? Who would I meet? What would I learn? Granted, I was still apprehensive about the type of case I might face as a juror. But I began to think that it might not be such a bad thing to serve on a jury.
When called as a potential juror, you go to the courthouse and spend many hours (usually a few days) sitting in a room with hundreds of other people who also received a summons. Each potential juror has an assigned individual and jury panel number. (A jury panel is a large group of people from whom a jury is selected.) Then, as the first day unfolds, jury selection begins. I won’t go into the details of the process, but here’s a good overview from the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General.
All potential jurors receive the opportunity to go before the judge to ask that they be deferred or excused from jury duty. I was fascinated by the variety of reasons people gave! The judge listened carefully, asked questions, and then made a decision about each potential juror.
Before this step however, the judge addressed us.
He reminded us that Canada has the best justice system in the world. The opportunity to be tried by a “jury of peers” is one of its central principles. He urged us to carefully consider our role as a juror – helping to ensure that people accused of crimes receive a fair trial. He also remarked that jurors usually describe the experience as one of the most meaningful of their lives.
The judge’s comments reminded me once again of how lucky I am. I have the great good fortune to be Canadian.
As an aside, it was interesting to observe and interact with the people who work at the courthouse, especially those whose job it is to staff the room where potential jurors wait for many hours. Imagine going to work knowing that the majority of people you encounter are ticked off about being there? There is much complaining, grumbling, and groaning. Through it all the courthouse staff members kept their cool, provided information as soon as it was available, and were generally good humoured. I’m not sure I would be if I were in their shoes! Kudos to them.
My number came up twice during the selection process for two separate juries. While I wasn’t chosen, I did get to see some of the inner workings of our justice system. I came away with a fresh appreciation for its many moving parts.
If you receive a jury duty summons, please do everything possible to make yourself available. The system isn’t perfect, but it would be much diminished without you.