Jury option is a right in civil trials. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the backlog of cases in Ontario courts, one solution that has been considered is to eliminate the need for juries in civil trials, at least on a temporary basis.
Temporarily removing juries permits courts to implement social distancing measures, without unnecessarily delay trials. Considering the social distancing recommendations made by Ontario health officials, it would be difficult for the courts to accommodate juries while maintaining social distancing practices, given space constraints and other logistical issues. To accommodate the public’s health needs during the current pandemic, temporarily removing juries is a logical step.
What about removing jury trials altogether? Such a decision could easily reduce backlog and increase access to justice.
Selecting prospective jurors can be a time-consuming process, and may cause further delays to trials. In addition, certain trials can be particularly complex and last for days or weeks, which can become burdensome on all parties, including the jurors and the justice system itself. Scheduling issues may arise the longer a trial must run. Due to these additional resources, jury trials are also much more costly than judge-alone trials.
Given these delays and costs, it is understandable why some may propose to eliminate juries entirely.
However, some types of cases benefit from the presence of a jury, such that removing jury trials altogether requires further consideration. In fact, juries can be particularly helpful where cases involve physical and/or mental harm to the plaintiff, and require a thorough assessment of damages. While eliminating juries may reduce backlog, certain cases may benefit from a process involving several informed minds instead of just the one alone.
While there is no mechanism to ensure the true impartiality of each juror, some may argue the same for judges. The key difference is, however, that judges provide us with transparency into their decision-making process by way of their written decisions. No such transparency exists with a jury.
Overall, our justice system may draw many benefits from eliminating jury trials. Should removing juries be a real option, we must ask how we can derive the benefits of a jury trial without the associated costs and delays.
It remains to be seen how the courts will address this matter, but eliminating juries appears to be a step in the right direction.
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