Action Committee on Court Operations in Response to COVID-19

Action Committee on Court Operations in Response to COVID-19

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Jury Summons

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A Statement from the Action Committee

Our Committee exists to support Canada's courts as they work to protect the health and safety of all court users in the COVID-19 context while upholding the fundamental values of our justice system. These mutually sustaining commitments guide all of our efforts.

The Action Committee on Court Operations in Response to COVID-19 has released this Tip Sheet to help guide the safe resumption of court operations in Canada.

This Tip Sheet is informed by Principles and Perspectives drawn from health and safety experts, the judiciary, governments and courts administrators - each motivated by a shared responsibility to protect the health and safety of Canadians in planning for the resumption of in-court operations.

It applies a phased method of risk identification and risk mitigation recommended by the Public Health Agency of Canada, and previously released by the Action Committee in its Orienting Principles on Safe and Accessible Courts. This method involves surveying the various elements of court operations, identifying risks for COVID-19 transmission, and implementing mitigation strategies according to a hierarchy of controls. Physical distancing is the starting point of this hierarchy, complemented by engineering controls, administrative controls, and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and non-medical masks (NMMs), as appropriate, each of which combine to form an integrated and thorough approach to protecting health and safety.

Process Survey and Risk Identification: Jury Summons

The operation of criminal jury processes differs by jurisdiction, location, and court facility. Common elements of the jury summons process are summarized below in order to help define risks and inform appropriate control measures. A more detailed account of these elements is available in the Action Committee’s Phases and Steps of a Criminal Jury Trial.

Elements of the process

  • Form and method of transmission - A summons is a letter sent in the mail asking the recipient to go to a courthouse or other court facility and participate in a jury selection process.
  • How recipients are identified - Recipients are selected randomly from a list of qualified jurors, who have been previously identified through a combination of random selection from existing government databases and completion of mailed questionnaires.
  • Options upon receipt - Compliance with a summons is mandatory. However, there are alternatives for persons with clear reasons why they cannot serve on a jury to defer or be excused from service without having to attend a selection process (e.g., by contacting the court in advance by phone or email and providing supporting documents as required).
  • Passage of time before attending court - There is likely to be a significant passage of time (several weeks) between receipt of a summons and the date on which the recipient is required to participate in a jury selection process.

Hazards related to this process

  • The risk of COVID-19 being transmitted through contaminated paper mail is low; however, the receipt of a summons may provoke anxiety about the safety of attending court for jury selection.
  • Random community selection may include individuals at high risk of COVID-19 exposure; attendance of these persons at court could result in transmission.
  • Random community selection may also include persons at high risk of medical complications if exposed to COVID-19, or who face acute anxiety at the prospect of attending crowded indoor spaces during the pandemic: attendance of these persons at court could result in a disproportionate risk to their health, safety or well-being.
  • Failure to understand or be provided with options to request to be excused from jury service may cause unnecessary attendance at court, including by persons potentially exposed to COVID-19.
  • Recipients may be exposed to COVID-19 after receiving summons and still attend at court, thus raising the risk of transmission.

Mitigating Risks

Accounting for each element in the jury summons process, the following control measures could be introduced to reduce risks of COVID-19 transmission and to help protect the health and safety of court users and personnel. See the Case study on Streamlining processes for jury summons and selection in New Brunswick for practical examples of such measures.

Physical Distancing

  • Consider how the jury summons can be formulated to ensure that no persons attend court unnecessarily, which would add to volume and exposure risks. Options may include:
    • Providing clear, actionable guidance for recipients to request to be excused from jury service remotely (by telephone or electronically) due either to risk of COVID-19 exposure or to traditional grounds of deferral or excusal; Consider also other possible grounds of excusal specific to the pandemic, such as hardship arising from a disproportionate risk of medical complications in the event of exposure (i.e. due to age or underlying medical health conditions) or from acute anxiety at having to attend crowded indoor spaces, and considerations of public interest (e.g. support staff working in health care or long-term care settings or other caregivers who are not excluded by reason of their profession);
    • Provide clear information to recipients on risk factors for COVID-19 exposure (recent health symptoms, travel, or proximity to ill persons) and other relevant factors related to the pandemic, as appropriate, that can be reported as reasons for requesting to be excused from jury service;
    • Provide recipients with the ongoing ability to contact the courthouse and request to be excused from jury service should they become ill or be exposed to COVID-19 during the period leading up to their attendance date.

Engineering

  • Not applicable at this stage

Administration

  • Consider using a health screening assessment questionnaire to identify individuals who may have COVID-19; if the individual screens positive, they are not to attend the courthouse and are to notify the court.
  • Consider whether any elements of the summons process can be replaced by electronic alternatives, such as email, text messaging and automated individual barcodes, to facilitate easier communication and processing of information.
  • Develop a communication package for all summons recipients, providing:
    • Clear options and instructions for requesting to be excused from jury service without attending court (as described above under Physical Distancing);
    • Guidance for contacting the court should the recipient contract or become exposed to COVID-19 prior to their attendance date (as described above under Physical Distancing);
    • A description of health and safety measures in place at the court, including any advance guidelines to prepare for attendance at court (for example, direction to wear a face mask, bring hand sanitizer, arrive within a specific timeframe, or arrive at a specific entrance to the court facility).

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and Non-Medical Masks (NMMs)

  • Provide disposable well-constructed, well-fitting non-medical masks (NMMs) for jurors, other court users and court personnel, and promote their use as recommended by public health authorities.
  • Provide clear instructions to jurors, other court users and court personnel on how to safely put on, wear, and remove a mask and ensure masks are properly worn.

Get further guidance on protecting court personnel and court users and general practices for cleaning and disinfecting applicable to all court operations.

Resources and References

Document last updated February 09, 2021