Action Committee on Court Operations in Response to COVID-19 - main content
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1. PRE-TRIAL PHASE
2. TRIAL PHASE
- Daily arrival to and departure from courthouse – Jurors are responsible for transporting themselves to and from the courthouse for each day of a trial. They may leave the courthouse independently for breaks (such as lunch), and they return to their homes at the end of each day. Although, typically, they are kept together during court recesses, unless individuals wish to independently go outside for air or to smoke. In certain circumstances, such as trials in remote regions, jurors may be housed in temporary accommodation (such as a hotel) for the duration of a trial.
- Movement to jury room and use of common facilities – Jurors may access courthouses through common points of entry and exit, or be directed to designated entry and exit points. They then proceed to jury rooms, where they congregate as individual (12-14 person) juries before being called into the courtroom. Jury rooms vary in size and configuration, but typically include a boardroom-style table and seating for all 12-14 jurors. Jury rooms sometimes include male and female washrooms; in other settings, jurors make use of common washroom facilities.
- Sitting in the jury stand – Once called into the courtroom, each juror sits in the jury stand. The jury stand is, in most courtrooms, a physical structure, like a box, in which there are the requisite number of chairs. The jury stand is off to one side of the courtroom, removed from the witness box, the clerk, and the judge. Within the jury stand, chairs are close together. The jury will remain in the jury stand for most of the time that the court is in session. The proximity of the jury stand to other courtroom elements and individuals will vary from one courtroom to the next. Once the presentation of evidence begins, the alternate jurors may be excused, leaving 12 jurors to try the case.
- Courtroom configuration – Other individuals in the courtroom include the judge, typically sitting behind a raised dais; court clerk(s) and court recorder, typically seated just in front of the dais; counsel, typically seated behind individual tables facing the dais, and rising to speak at their tables or at a common lectern; and the audience, seated behind the tables reserved for counsel. Security staff, translators, and additional personnel may be situated at various locations. (A diagram of a sample courtroom is provided in the annex below).
- Jury instructions – In instructions to the jury, the judge will specify the length of each sitting, as well as the time at which breaks will be taken. At the opening of a trial, the judge will invite the jury to proceed to the jury room to decide upon the selection of a foreperson.
- Exclusion of the jury – The judge may order the exclusion of the jury from the courtroom in certain circumstances, including “voir dire” hearings to determine the admissibility of evidence. During the exclusion of the jury from the courtroom, the jury will be directed to the jury room by a court services officer. The jury will remain together, and jurors will be asked to remain in the jury room until the judge calls them back in the courtroom.
- Presentation and hearing of evidence – Oral evidence is given through the summoning of individual witnesses to the witness stand, which is typically located near the judicial dais and in an area that allows clear lines of sight for jurors, the judge, and counsel. Counsel take turns asking questions of witnesses, doing so either from behind their counsel tables or from behind a common lectern. They may “approach” either witnesses or the jury in order to show them exhibits or other material, and may also pass exhibits to the court clerk or approach the judge to speak with her or him privately, when so directed. Exhibits can include documents, physical objects or photographs, or other materials (such as enlarged images or diagrams). As evidence is presented, jurors may view these materials from afar, or on display screens, or may even have opportunities to “interact” with and physically inspect exhibits. In certain trials, jurors may be provided with their own binders that contain materials that will be referred to frequently during the trial. Jurors may also be permitted, in individual cases, to keep their own notes. Many will carry their personal belongings in and out of the jury room, although coats and other belongings may be secured there during the day as well. While extremely unlikely, it remains possible that, during the course of a trial, a jury may be transported to a different location in order to view something that is considered necessary for the jury to see in order to appreciate the evidence in a case.
- Discharge of jurors – During the course of a trial, the judge may direct that one or more jurors be discharged, which results in them being relieved immediately from the jury. This can arise when a juror falls ill or faces other intervening circumstances, or where circumstances arise that disqualify the juror. A jury will remain viable provided it has at least 10 members; if its numbers drop below this point, the entire jury may be discharged due either to a mistrial or to election to proceed by judge alone. Discharged jurors will exit the courthouse and arrange for their own transportation home.
- Deliberation and sequestering – At the end of a trial, the jury will be directed to the jury room to begin their deliberations. At 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 an overnight accommodation (a hotel where rooms have been reserved for each juror) where they will remain sequestered from outside contact. No communication devices are permitted; sheriffs may be asked to assist members of the jury with notifying loved ones and collecting personal items. Jurors may be transported to and from the hotel accommodation by taxi or chartered vehicle such as a van or bus. They are provided food and refreshments and may take meals together. They may be escorted as a group by court personnel to a restaurant, provided the restaurant does not display television or radio news; court personnel will even escort jurors to washrooms and for short breaks outdoors, ensuring they do not access any news media or come into contact with members of the public. They return each day to continue deliberation 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 Charge. They may also have their individual notes with them in the jury room, if they were permitted to make notes during the trial. All of this material would be available for jurors to have physical contact with.
- 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. The court services officer will be standing outside the jury room where they will collect the envelope and 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 from the recorder 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.