1 Jul 2009
HAPPY CANADA DAY!!!
I hope you have all enjoyed Canada Day! Welcome to July's episode of KaTsZoNe!
I am starting this month's episode with something which I have been curious about for a very long time -- the jury system. I finally had a close up view when I became a juror.
My knowledge about the jury system was pretty much limited to the following which is found in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that gives a person charged with an offence the right to a jury trial. (See the Legal Rights section, section 11(f) of the Charter at http://laws.justice.gc.ca/en/charter/1.html).
Our current jury system likely originated from 12th century England, when King Henry II set up the jury system to settle land disputes, using twelve free men. In Canada, civil cases have a jury of six people, and in a criminal trial, a jury consists of twelve people. The jury system has quite a history and I encourage you to take a look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jury_trial.
I was summoned to attend the Toronto Court House, in downtown Toronto, on the first day of June. I had never been summoned as a potential juror and did not sure what to expect. I only knew one person who had been summoned in the past and he told me to bring something to read because there would be a lot of waiting around. I definitely had enough to read, but, unfortunately, not enough Starbucks coffee to keep me awake! Brutal!
The first case which my panel was called into a courtroom for jury selection on a civil case. A panel consists of a group of potential jurors. The presiding judge gave us a brief synopsis of the case, as well as names of all the players - including the plaintiff, counsel and witnesses. We were also told the expected length of the trial. Anyone who thinks he/she might not be able to carry out their duty as a juror could approach the judge to give their reasons. Once six jurors were selected, which was all that was needed for a civil case, the remainder of the panel could leave and a few sighs of relief could be heard. The jury was escorted to the courtroom where the trial would be held, which started that same day.
After lunch, I returned to the jury lounge, wondering if my panel would be called again. At about 3 p.m., we finally heard the second call of the day. We were led to the ninth floor of the Court House and entered a courtroom which already had another panel settled in there. When my panel finally settled in, the presiding judge in the criminal trial gave a brief synopsis of the case. The accused entered his pleas. We were informed that the trial was expected to take 7 to 10 days. We were introduced to the accused, Crown counsel, defence counsel, and given a list of names of potential witnesses. The judge planned to select 30 potential jurors that day and go through the jury selection process. By the end of the day, only a few jurors were selected. We were told to return to the same courtroom the next day, to complete the selection process.
On Tuesday morning, I joined other potential jurors in the courtroom. Another 10 potential jurors were to be selected. The Registrar reached his hand into the drum to pull out one ballot at a time, which were written on small cards. The juror number, name of the person and his/her occupation were read out loud before the court and once each name was called, that person would step forward to the front of the courtroom and faced the judge. Those who had issues which would make it difficult for them to be jurors on this particular case would speak to the judge and if the judge would decide whether it was a good reason for that person to be excused. The triers (two people who were selected from the panels), defence and the Crown had to all accept a person to be a juror in order for that person to be chosen. If there was a "challenge" by either one of them, no reason had to be given - and the potential juror would be excused by the judge and could leave. Before one was deemed acceptable or not acceptable, defence counsel would ask a question to be answered by the potential juror. I had been saying my juror number in my mind, wondering if I would be called. It's funny that every time someone's number was called, I had an urge to yell, "BINGO". Hey, it was just like a lottery! Well, finally, that morning, I was called up to the front and was selected as a juror -- BINGO!
Twelve people of the jury, deemed to be peers of the accused, have a great responsibility to be judges of facts. In the days of Henry II, the jury had to uncover the facts of the case. Today, the jury listens to a dispute, evaluates the evidence presented, decides on the facts, and makes a decision based on the rules of law and instructions given by the judge. The jury typically decides on whether the accused is "Guilty" or "Not guilty" and does not make a decision about the penalty. No matter how you look at it, in my mind, it was a huge responsibility.
I feel that I was very fortunate to be in a great company of men and women of different ages, various occupations, different ethnic backgrounds. Without an expert knowledge about the law, I believe that in order to work successfully as a team in this situation we had to listen to one another, to concentrate and listen carefully to the arguments from counsel and testimonies of witnesses, to use a fair amount of reasoning skills, and apply common sense. I also feel that humour was a lifesaver. Given the severity of the case, oftentimes, my fellow jurors and I just had to take our minds off the case during our breaks and laugh about a story or joke which was completely unrelated to the case. We all worked so hard to the point where we were simply exhausted after a day's work. And, when the trial was drawing to a conclusion, we had already discussed things at length. In a criminal trial, a unanimous decision had to be reached. So, if you know how difficult it is to have three people agree on anything, think what it is like to have 12 people all agree on something. In my humble opinion, I experienced teamwork at its finest!
You will often hear the words, "civic duty" or "jury duty", when referring to being a juror. You don't have to like your "duty", but, you have to understand the importance of your role in our legal system, and how you can play a significant part in society. It is a duty that many people will try to get out of. The timing never seems to be right. Yes, there are good reasons to ask to be excused from jury duty (especially if it could take months out of your life). You may not like the jury system. Perhaps you feel that there are flaws in our jury system. All I can say is, for some, including myself, it has been one of the greatest learning lessons in life. As I have mentioned above, one of the things I experienced was teamwork at its finest. We had a goal and we all worked together to achieve it to the best of our ability and be as impartial as we could. It is not always easy to remove our emotions when trying to make a serious decision, but, that is a challenge that all jurors had to attempt to do. And so, in one week, I grew up...again.
From Jury to July -- yes, more adventures are ahead of me! I am REALLY looking forward to the Honda Indy Toronto which takes place between July 10 and 12. It took me awhile to decide on getting tickets, given the changes which have occurred in the last couple years. Race cars were missing from Toronto streets last year, so, not surprisingly, I was wondering if it would go ahead this year. But, it now looks like an exciting weekend has been planned. Remember last month when I wrote about the winner of the Indianopolis 500, Helio Castroneves? Mr. Castroneves, a.k.a. "Spiderman", is going to be racing on Toronto streets, along with other great auto racers of our time! It would be a dream to attend the Indy 500 but since that has not happened yet, the next best thing is to see the Indy in Toronto! I will tell you more after this event -- so, make sure you stay tune for August's episode of KaTsZoNe!
Hope everyone enjoys July and keep me posted about what is going on in your life. Thanks to those of you who have emailed me after reading KaTsZoNe. This is what it's all about -- keeping in touch! And, I do try to respond to your individual emails when I hear from you, so, I look forward to hearing from you.
Check out past episodes of KaTsZone at:
Charter of Rights and Freedoms - http://laws.justice.gc.ca/en/charter/1.html
Jury trial - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jury_trial
Honda Indy Toronto - http://www.hondaindytoronto.com/