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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 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.

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 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 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 a summons (or be asymptomatic) 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 the risks of exposure to and transmission of COVID-19 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.

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 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).
    • Providing clear information to recipients on risk factors for COVID-19 exposure and other relevant factors related to the pandemic, as appropriate, that can be reported as reasons for requesting to be excused from jury service.
    • Enabling recipients to contact the court and request to be excused from jury service at any time should they become ill or be exposed to COVID-19 prior to or on their attendance date.
    • Considering whether any elements of the summons process can be replaced by electronic alternatives, such as email, text messaging and automated individual barcodes, to facilitate communication and processing of information.

Administrative Controls

  • Develop a communication package for all summons recipients, providing:
    • Clear options and instructions for requesting to be excused from jury service without attending court
    • Guidance for contacting the court should the recipient contract or become exposed to COVID-19 before their attendance date
    • 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 mask, bring hand sanitizer, arrive within a specific timeframe, or arrive at a specific entrance to the court facility)

Masks and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

  • Consider providing jurors, other court users and court personnel with well-constructed, well-fitting masks suitable to the setting. Provide clear instructions on how to safely put on, wear, and remove a mask and ensure masks are properly worn.

Document last updated December 14, 2022