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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 Selection

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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.

NOTICE: This document highlights best practices when the epidemiological situation and relevant risk assessments call for enhanced public health measures to control the spread of COVID-19 in a court environment. Please contact local public health authorities for current requirements, which may differ from the practices outlined in this document, and your local Occupational Health and Safety regulator for current guidance specific to the workplace.

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

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 court users and personnel in planning for the resumption or continuation of in-court operations.

It applies a phased method of risk identification and risk mitigation recommended by the Public Health Agency of Canada, and 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. Elimination and substitution are the starting points of this hierarchy, complemented by engineering controls, administrative controls, and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and masks, as appropriate, each of which combine to form an integrated and thorough approach to protecting health and safety.

Process Survey and Risk Identification: Jury Selection

The operation of criminal jury processes differs by jurisdiction, location, and court facility. Common elements of the jury selection 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

  • Travel to and from courthouse - Persons summoned for jury duty typically arrange for independent travel to and from court, sometimes over the course of several days, to participate in jury selection. This involves movement between their homes, the court facility, and other public spaces (such as public transport).
  • Arrival at court and initial processing - Arrival, registration, and assembly at the court facility will likely involve passing through common points of entry; waiting in lines; waiting in public reception areas; use of common facilities; and eventual direction to an assembly room or courtroom.
  • Gathering of potential jurors in assembly room - Once transferred to an assembly room, prospective jurors (“panels”) will be seated, ordinarily in close contact with one another in an audience-style format. They may remain in the assembly room for an extended time, until being selected to participate in jury selection in a separate courtroom. Some panellists may be dismissed and asked to return to court on a different day. Others may be permanently dismissed.
  • Assignment of potential jurors to courtrooms - Selected panel members are directed to individual courtrooms, where the jury selection process is completed for each trial. This typically involves their remaining in a courtroom for an extended period, together with the presiding judge, court clerk(s), counsel for the crown and the defence, and possibly other personnel such as sheriffs, victim support officers, and security staff. Criminally accused persons will almost always be present.
  • Calling of prospective jurors for questioning - Prospective jurors will be called one at a time to sit in the witness box and answer questions from the presiding judge and counsel. Prior to receiving questions, prospective jurors take an oath or affirmation, which may involve contact with a religious text or close contact with a court officer.
  • Deferral, excusal, or elimination - As jurors are selected, they sit together in the jury box. Any prospective juror deferred, excused, or eliminated for cause may depart the court immediately.
  • Completion of jury selection - The jury selection process continues until 12 to 14 jurors and alternates are selected to constitute a jury. This may take as little as several hours or as long as several days, during which time prospective jurors continue to sit in the audience and access the public areas of the court facility during breaks. When the 12 to 14 jurors are selected, a court services officer will redirect them to the jury room. The trial may commence immediately, or the jurors may be released and asked to return to the court for a specific trial date.

Hazards related to this process

  • Persons attending jury selection may transmit COVID-19 to other persons involved in the process due to previous exposure in their homes or in public.
  • The court facility itself could be a location for contraction and transmission to the outside community due to:
    • Poorly ventilated, closed and crowded spaces
    • Prolonged or multiple close contacts and close-range conversations between jurors, court staff and other persons, including in waiting areas, passageways, the courtroom and the jury box
    • Physical contact with common or high touch surfaces at all stages, including in the courtroom, the jury box, the witness box, washrooms and other common facilities, and during movement between locations - these surfaces can include doors, elevators, chairs, railings, and desks
  • Return of jurors to their homes and communities before attending the trial means they could be exposed to COVID-19 in the interim.

Mitigating Risks

Accounting for each element in the jury selection 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.

In the exercise of due diligence and responsible stewardship, control measures are likely to evolve with knowledge related to the risks posed by COVID-19 and the usefulness of such measures to mitigate those risks.

Elimination and Substitution

  • Consider whether any elements of the jury selection process could be replaced by electronic or remote alternatives that would reduce the number of individuals required to attend court (see the Tip Sheet on Jury Summons ) and the Case Study on Streamlining Processes for Jury Summons and Selection in New Brunswick.
  • Consider whether secure remote transmission such as CCTV can be used to support physical distancing at any stage of the selection process, such as during delivery of common information or presentations to prospective jurors, or during elements of courtroom activities that do not require in-person interaction between the judge, counsel, and prospective jurors.

Physical Distancing

  • Maintain at least 2 metres (6 feet) distance between people whenever possible, for example by:
  • Staggering arrival times for prospective jurors to alleviate congestion and congregation at building access points and in common areas
    • Introducing electronic alternatives to physical registration (phone apps, digital barcodes and no-contact scanning points, etc.)
    • Locating physical registration or other administrative processes in spaces that can accommodate appropriate distancing between persons waiting in line
    • Using markers or barriers to create walking paths
    • Marking floors with distancing cues
    • Blocking seats in waiting areas, assembly rooms, and courtrooms
    • Dispersing prospective jurors in smaller groups, where possible, to different assembly rooms and courtrooms so as to alleviate occupation density;
    • Considering alternatives to locating jurors in jury boxes, or reconfiguring jury boxes to allow appropriate distance between seats.
  • Consider the possibility of relocating jury selection to alternate facilities that may be better suited to physical distancing requirements, such as conference facilities, arenas and sports complexes, or large community centres. This could be combined with eventual relocation to the courthouse after completing “high volume” stages of the selection process.


  • Ensure that ventilation systems of indoor spaces are operating properly, and implement physical barriers as added protection where possible to help protect court personnel and court users, as described in the Action Committee’s Orienting Principles on Safe and Accessible Courts.

    In particular, the installation of transparent physical barriers could be considered, if it is safe to do so:

    • in the areas reserved for the registration of prospective jurors, who must interact with court staff;
    • between seating areas or on the jury bench;
    • around the witness bar and jury bench;
    • in front or around stations used by the judge, other court personnel or lawyers.


In the context of jury selection, examples of administrative controls may include:

  • Providing prospective jurors with advance information on health and safety measures that will be observed at the court facility, to inform their conduct and provide reassurance of safety (see the Tip Sheet on Jury Summons)
  • Providing an introductory presentation to prospective jurors outlining safe practices while in the courthouse such as respiratory etiquette, handwashing, following procedures and floor markings to ensure physical distancing, and what to do if they become ill
  • Ensuring the availability of court staff to assist with health and safety concerns, answer questions, and reinforce distancing and other requirements
  • Considering vaccination policies or guidelines, as may be deemed appropriate to the context, in consultation with relevant experts and committees, and with access to justice as a guiding principle

In the court setting generally, additional examples of administrative controls may include procedures, policies or protocols relating to screening, contact tracing, cleaning and disinfecting, and other measures. For more information, see the Action Committee’s Orienting Principles on Safe and Accessible Courts and Guidance on Protecting Court Personnel and Court Users and General Practices for Cleaning and Disinfecting.

Masks and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

  • Promote the wearing of well-constructed, well-fitting masks suitable to the setting and intended activities, as recommended by public health authorities
  • Provide well-constructed, well-fitting disposable masks to all jurors, court users and personnel, and clear instructions on how to safely and properly put on, wear and remove masks

For additional guidance on the use of masks and PPE in the court setting, see the Action Committee’s Orienting Principles on Safe and Accessible Courts.

Document last updated December 14, 2022