Civil Litigation

Role of civil juries should not be overlooked

While civil jury trials in New Brunswick are somewhat rare and can be expensive to run, sitting on a jury should be considered part of a person's civic responsibility, says Fredericton litigator Matthew Pearn.

Pearn makes his comments in connection with news that New Brunswick’s attorney general proposed regulatory changes that will eliminate civil jury trials in the province except in a few types of actions, including slander, malicious arrest, malicious prosecution, and false imprisonment actions.

As Law Times reports, if the proposal becomes law, litigants will have to foot the bill for jury costs in civil actions where a jury trial is still an option.

Pearn, an associate with Foster & Company, who was a part of a long-running civil jury defamation trial, says requiring litigants to pay for juries is adding more expense to an already expensive process.

He adds there are jurisdictions in Canada where civil juries are used, including Nova Scotia for motor vehicle accidents, and it’s simply considered part of your civic responsibility to sit on a civil jury.

“You have a duty as a member of society to contribute towards the cause of justice and if your name is called and if you don’t have a reason for being excluded from the jury pool as per the legislation of your jurisdiction, then you’re called upon to serve,” Pearn tells AdvocateDaily.com.

He notes the role of a civil jury, particularly in a defamation action, is highly important.

“The idea in deciding whether someone has made out a claim of defamation is, ‘What does the average person on the street think of the meaning of the statement and would it diminish the plaintiff's reputation in the community?’”

Of course, the other part of the case is whether the statement is true or not, he says, but the heart of the matter is what would the average person understand the statement to mean.

“A jury is uniquely positioned to answer that question,” Pearn says. “It’s more appropriate to put the question to your average Joe than it is to put it to your average judge.”

Pearn wonders what the motivation would be for getting rid of civil jury trials in the province, as they are already so rare.

“The defamation trial that I was a part of was probably the first civil jury in 20 or 25 years,” he says. “They aren’t a very common tool to use but they are the appropriate tool, depending on the context.”

Pearn says there are many common law jurisdictions around the world that call upon juries to answer civil questions as well as criminal.

“I think it makes us all a little bit more connected to the justice system, whether it’s a criminal or civil jury that you sit on,” he says.

Law Times reports that jurors in New Brunswick are paid $20 for a half-day’s attendance and $40 for full day’s attendance.

“If a trial last 10 days or longer, a juror will be paid $40 for each half day and $80 for each full day of attendance starting on day 10 of the trial,” the article states. “Juries may also be compensated for meals and travel expenses."

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