Ci­ti­zens blasted for not show­ing up for jury duty

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - FRONT PAGE - HEATHER POLISCHUK

REGINA 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.”

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