Citizens blasted for not showing for jury duty
Judge ‘reads the riot act’ to group, saying this is a growing problem
Earlier this week, a group of potential jurors gathered in a Regina Court of Queen’s Bench courtroom.
Had they been there when the actual jury had been selected, they could have avoided the scolding they received from Justice Brian Scherman.
Scherman noted the jurors — 26 in total — hadn’t attended court as required when the jury was selected for a civil matter over which he is presiding. He told them he requested the sheriff contact them and have them attend court “because we’ve got a problem.”
“Basically, I’m here to read the riot act to you guys,” he said. “You did not perform your civic duty, and I can assure you that this is a developing problem that we’re having, people ignoring these demands.”
Court of Queen’s Bench Chief Justice Martel Popescul has been a judge for 11 years and, as a lawyer prior to that, has close to four decades of experience with jury trials. He said it isn’t unusual for a number of people to not show up for jury selection and, while there might not be evidence of a growing trend, it is a problem nonetheless.
“I think it is a concern in that there seems to be some developing apathy for people to not respond,” Popescul said.
He noted there is no empirical data to track whether there is an accelerating problem in this area; rather it’s anecdotal when it comes to discussing the issue. Popescul said he’s certainly had cases in which would-be jurors didn’t show up, and he’s dealt with the problem in a similar fashion to Scherman.
But the chief justice added that Saskatchewan doesn’t appear to have the same concerns noted in some jurisdictions.
In 2013, Chief Justice Joseph Kennedy with the Nova Scotia Supreme Court referred to the modern age as a “flabby, sad generation” consisting of numerous people who fail to vote or perform jury duty. In that instance, 95 people failed to respond to jury summonses.
Here in Saskatchewan, Popescul focused on the positives, stating those he’s run into who have participated in jury duty found it a worthwhile experience.
“Jury duty is very important and it’s often been said that it’s a cornerstone of democracy to have the opportunity and the right to be tried by a jury of one’s peers,” he said. “It offers citizens the chance to become involved in the process, and I think it’s often helpful to have people become involved so they know how our system works.”
According to numbers from the Ministry of Justice, 20,100 citizens were summoned for 46 jury panels in 2016, with an average of 440 summonses sent per panel.
Popescul said when people don’t respond to summonses, the sheriff’s office is tasked with investigating why “and, in appropriate cases, the people can be charged and convicted of not doing their civic duty.”
While fines of up to $1,000 are possible in cases of no-shows, the ministry is not aware of it ever having been imposed in Saskatchewan.
Even so, Scherman ensured his 26 no-shows were alerted to the existence of the fine. In doing so, he noted the summonses contain a warning that failure to comply is an offence.
Scherman added there is an application that can be made ahead of time, asking to be relieved of jury service — a request that can be met prior to the jury selection date if legitimate reasons are presented.
But in this case, Scherman noted the no-shows didn’t make those requests, nor did they return the needed forms or show up in court. He said when contacted afterward, the 26 provided a number of excuses, with multiple people reporting they forgot or expected a followup letter.
“It is profoundly unfair that the 26 who did not respond didn’t and a whole bunch of others did ...,” Scherman said. “I was insisting upon your return to hear me out because this message needs to be delivered. It’s happening far too often.”