Covid-19 Impacts on Civil Jury Trials in Ontario

In a ruling given on Tuesday, March 9, 2021, Judge McCarthy of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice granted the plaintiff’s motion to have a jury notice struck during a civil trial taking place in the Simcoe-Muskoka region. At the time of the filing, Simcoe-Muskoka was in the “grey” status of public health measures enacted during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the case, the defendant had requested a civil action be heard by a jury. The RSJ for the Central East region had already let it be known to the members of the bench in the area that there would likely not be any civil jury trials in the region in 2021, and the civil jury trial would likely not be heard until May of 2022. The plaintiff did not want to wait that long to have the case heard, and so entered a motion to have the defendant’s jury notice struck. The court sided with the plaintiff, provisionally, saying that if the matter could be heard and resolved prior to June of 2021, it would go ahead without a jury, but if it had not commenced prior to then, the defendant would have leave to apply to have the jury notice restored.

In the decision, the judge wrote that the right to a trial by jury is not absolute, and must be balanced against practicality and ensuring “that the parties will be served by the discharge of the jury”. This leads to an interesting issue. It is surprising that, given that the courts have been operating in this remote/quasi-remote environment for over a year, that the courts have not found a way to incorporate a jury into remote hearings. Juries are an important part of the judicial system in Canada and access to one should be based on the normal series of tests and rules, and not subject to a separate standard than they would have been prior to Covid.

The decision: https://www.canlii.org/en/on/onsc/doc/2021/2021onsc1840/2021onsc1840.html

 

This blog post was written by a CCLA-PBSC RightsWatch student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the view of the CCLA or PBSC