TWO ROUTES TO A FAIRER, BET­TER JURY SYS­TEM

Toronto Star - - GREATER TORONTO -

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.

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