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.
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.
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: 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. At all times, they will 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 will record 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 will stand to announce the verdict to the court.
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, multiple close contacts 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
Contact with common or high-touch surfaces 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
Accounting for each element of juror sequestration, deliberation and release, 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.
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.
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
Ensure that ventilation systems of indoor spaces are operating properly, and open windows of vehicles used to transport jurors as weather permits and provided this action does not pose a safety risk.
Implement physical barriers as added protection where possible to help protect court personnel and court users. In particular, the installation of transparent physical barriers could be considered, if it is safe to do so:
Between seating spaces in the jury room
Between seating spaces in vehicles used for jury transportation