TWO ROUTES TO A FAIRER, BETTER JURY SYSTEM
Two suggestions to improve the jury selection process both involve asking more questions of prospective jurors. Another involves changing the way jurors are compensated so more people, particularly those limited by financial constraints, can participate in longer trials. Defence lawyer Paul Cooper believes we could look to the U.S. system, which can involve extensive questioning of jurors, to better address bias. “I think it’s important to look at potential reform because . . . we want to be able to dig down in a fair way to ensure that no potential juror has a hidden bias or has any type of partiality,” Cooper said. “We (as a society) have changed so drastically over the last 20 to 30 years, it may be time for Parliament to see if there is a need for reform.” Psychologist Dax Urbszat suggests a different approach that is data-driven: having jurors fill out a psychological assessment with questions designed to detect bias. “Being a psychologist, we like to rely on actual data,” he said in an interview. “We would like to do some sort of assessment questionnaire that is proven to be valid and reliable, that measures things like bias or modern racism. These could be filled out anonymously and a computer could read the scores and see if the potential juror is acceptable or not.” Such a system is unlikely to be imposed any time soon, and has the drawback of being done in private, rather than in public, he says. Cooper also believes jurors should be compensated more, particularly in trials that take several months to complete, so that a wider group of people would be eligible to serve on a jury. He refers to a 2006 report conducted by a committee of judges that highlighted financial hardship for jurors as being a key issue: “If the lost income and/or costs of serving to the potential juror can result in the exclusion of significant numbers from the jury panel on the basis of hardship,” the report states, “the result may very well be an inability to empanel a jury representative of the community in which the trial is held.” Jurors currently receive no remuneration for the first 10 days, $40 per day from Day 11 to 49, and $100 per day after that. Apart from money, there may be another way to make jury selection less arduous for potential jurors. Speaking to several of them dismissed after a recent jury pick in a Toronto courthouse, they lamented the slowness and inefficiency of the procedure which involves having the numbers of potential jurors placed in a wooden drum, then pulled out at random and read to the court in order to divide the large pool into smaller groups of around 25. This can take all day — and the seemingly unnecessary nature of it leaves you less than thrilled about performing your civic duty, one dismissed juror observed. One fix suggested: computerizing the system to make the sorting quicker.