Action Committee on Court Operations in Response to COVID-19

Action Committee on Court Operations in Response to COVID-19

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Sequestering, Deliberation, and Release of the Jury

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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: Sequestering, Deliberation, and Release of the Jury

The operation of criminal jury processes differs by jurisdiction, location, and court facility. Common elements of jury sequestering, deliberation, and release at the end of a trial 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

  • Deliberation and sequestering - At the end of a trial, the jury will be directed to the jury room to begin their deliberations. From this point, the jury is sequestered. Every juror must stay in the jury room until they reach a verdict. If the jury does not reach a verdict by the end of the day, the jury will be directed to overnight accommodation at a hotel where they will remain sequestered from outside contact. Jurors may be transported to and from the hotel by taxi or chartered vehicle such as a van or bus. They are provided food and refreshments and may take meals together. They will at all times be escorted as a group by court personnel, whether for meals, washroom breaks or short breaks outdoors, to ensure they do not access any news media or come into contact with members of the public. The jurors return each day to continue deliberations in the jury room.

    All trial exhibits are provided to the jury, along with any other material deemed helpful to them by the judge including decision trees or a physical copy of the Judge’s Charges.

  • Jury questions - If questions arise during the deliberations, jurors are asked to put them in writing, and provide them to the court services officer in a sealed envelope, who will provide it to the judge. The jury will be redirected to the courtroom and the judge will answer the jury’s questions. If the jury cannot recall something, or if various jurors have divergent recollections, counsel or the judge may assist the jury by reviewing their notes or playing back evidence within the courtroom.
  • Verdict - When the jury reaches a unanimous verdict on the case before them, they will be asked to deliver the verdict. The foreperson records the verdict on a verdict sheet and notifies the court services officer. The jury will be redirected to the courtroom and take their places in the jury stand. The jury’s foreperson stands to announce the verdict to the courtroom.
  • Release of the jury - The verdict represents the termination of the trial, after which the jury is released. With the exception of some trials in remote locations, or where special security concerns exist, jurors arrange for their own transportation home.

Hazards related to this process

  • Poorly ventilated and crowded places;
  • Prolonged close contact and close-range conversations between jurors, court personnel, and other individuals – in the courtroom or the jury room, during movement within court facilities, during transport to and from juror accommodations, at the hotel or restaurant, and at any intermittent or entry/exit points;
  • Contact with common surfaces, physical exhibits or objects in the courtroom or the jury room, during movement or transportation, at the hotel or the restaurant, or at any intermittent or entry/exit points.

Mitigating Risks

Physical Distancing

  • Maintain at least 2 metres (6 feet) distance between people whenever possible, for example by:
    • Using a jury room with adequate space for physical distancing;
    • Arranging the seating, locations for jurors to deposit personal belongings, and other elements of the jury room to reinforce physical distancing;
    • Considering the use of floor markers or other visual cues to direct positioning and movement in the jury room;
    • Arranging a mode of jury transport that allows for physical distancing between seats (a chartered bus, or multiple vehicles where one large vehicle is not available);
    • Where possible, booking accommodations that enable the separation of jurors from other guests via the use of a dedicated floor or wing;
    • Where possible, providing meals to jurors individually via room service, or arranging for jurors to dine in restaurants with sufficient space for distancing from other patrons and from each other (reservation of a large private room or other dedicated section of a restaurant could be considered).
  • Consider relocating jury deliberations to an alternate facility, such as a hotel conference centre, where jury rooms available at the courthouse are inadequate for physical distancing. Conducting deliberations in the same facility where jurors are accommodated avoids the need for transportation.
  • Train court personnel responsible for accompanying jurors in physical distancing protocols.
  • Incorporate physical distancing guidelines in basic information and guidance given to the jury by court personnel and/or the presiding judge.

Engineering

  • Ensure that ventilation systems of indoor spaces are operating properly. To improve ventilation:
    • Open windows and doors for a few minutes at a time during the day as weather permits and provided this does not pose a safety risk;
    • Run the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) fan continuously at a low speed to increase air movement and filtration;
    • Adjust building ventilation systems and air conditioning units to keep rooms cool rather than using powerful portable cooling fans that might increase the spread of COVID-19;
    • Limit the use of demand-controlled ventilation; keep the system running at the optimal setting;
    • Increase filtration efficiency to the highest level appropriate for the ventilation system. Clean or change air filters regularly as recommended by the manufacturer;
    • Consult an HVAC professional to ensure the HVAC system is suitable for the setting, activities, number of occupants and length of time the space is occupied, and before making any changes to the system;
    • If possible, run systems for two hours at maximum outside airflow before and after the rooms and/or building are occupied;
    • If possible, run bathroom exhaust fans continuously if they are vented to the outside;
  • Consider the use of portable high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters only in situations where enhancing natural or mechanical ventilation is not possible and when physical distancing can be achieved. Consult an experienced professional before using these devices.
  • Install barriers or shielding, such as Plexiglas dividers, for example:
    • Between seating spaces in the jury room;
    • Between seating spaces in vehicles used for jury transportation.

Note: While such barriers do not replace the use of non-medical masks, they can provide an additional layer of protection.

Administration

  • Conduct health screening of jurors, other court users and court personnel upon their arrival at the court facility.
  • Train designated personnel on how to conduct proper health screening.
  • Wherever possible and subject to applicable legislation, collect basic information on all persons who enter the court facility, to support contact tracing efforts by the local public health authority as needed.
  • Include basic health and safety guidance, and information on what to do if feeling ill, in directions to jury upon the commencement of their deliberations.
  • Train jury support personnel to guide and assist with any issues related to health and safety, including safe isolation and care for any juror who becomes ill.
  • Reinforce to jurors the need to frequently wash hands, especially before entering or re-entering the jury room, before and after meals, and after coming into contact with common surfaces.
  • Encourage regular breaks in jury deliberation to allow for frequent hand washing.
  • Establish movement protocols to govern routine processes such as arrival and seating for transportation, and entry and exit from the courthouse and jury room.
  • Consider implementing electronic substitutes for the handling of physical material (for example, inspection of evidence or exhibits, and transmission of jury questions).
  • Consider eliminating or minimizing juror contact with evidence and exhibits by designating a court official with responsibility for displaying these materials to jurors on request.
  • Minimize the extent to which jurors are required to share materials by providing them with individual packages on key trial information, directions, and exhibits.
  • Provide hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol at entrances and exits, on desks and tables, and after handling documents and materials.
  • Post signage and instructions throughout the courthouse, including within the jury room, to promote physical distancing, respiratory etiquette and proper hygiene practices.
  • Provide jurors with information upon release from the trial, asking them to advise the court should they contract COVID-19 within 14 days of their attendance in court; follow up as appropriate with local health authorities, including to seek direction on whether other jurors, court users, or personnel should be notified of COVID-19 exposure risk.
  • Require frequent cleaning and disinfecting of the jury room and any vehicles used to transport jurors.
  • Ascertain cleaning and disinfecting and other health and safety protocols observed by hotels and meal providers, and ensure their adequacy to safeguard against COVID-19 transmission.

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.
  • Provide appropriate PPE such as face shields, as recommended by public health authorities, to any court personnel who are required to be in close contact with jurors or with members of the public while guiding and assisting jurors, to any personnel responsible for handling exhibits or other physical items, and to any personnel responsible for cleaning and disinfecting. While face shields do not replace masks, they provide an additional layer of protection from eye contamination through respiratory particles.
  • Ensure appropriate safety training of any court personnel required to use NMMs and PPE, consistent with applicable occupational health and safety laws and regulations.

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 9, 2021