Michael Ford (post until Oct. 31/19)
Criminal

TLA welcomes report urging juries get better payment, psychological help

Better compensation for jurors would be a positive step towards ensuring balanced juries, says Dirk Derstine, president of the Toronto Lawyers Association.

Derstine, a criminal lawyer, says recommendations by a Parliamentary committee on treating jurors and potential jurors with more respect and recognizing the inherent hardships of sitting through a long criminal trial is a welcome development.

“Certainly increasing compensation is a good idea,” he says. “Currently jurors only get a nominal amount until they sit past a threshold of time and that doesn’t even cover parking if they’re coming into centres like downtown Toronto.”

The House Justice and Human Rights Committee report Improving Support for Jurors in Canada recommended paying jurors $120 a day from the start of a trial. It also recommended compensation for costs such as parking, travel, meals and child care.

However, it didn’t suggest those payments, which currently must be declared as taxable income, should be tax-free to make up the difference between what someone earns and what they’re being paid for jury duty.

“That could be one way or you could say, 'We’ll pay you 80 per cent of your wages up to a maximum of X,'” Derstine tells AdvocateDaily.com

The recommendation is a substantial increase from the current pay schedule. According to the CBC, “In Ontario, jurors are usually paid $40 starting only on the 11th day of trial, which increases to $100 a day if the trail goes longer than 50 days.”

However, judges can exercise their discretion to order the $100 per diem compensation at any point, especially if a potential juror would suffer financial hardship, Derstine says.

“It’s important because the right to a trial by a jury of your peers is a core essential of our judicial process,” he says. “But too often the hardship of jury duty scares people away and so you don’t get a cross section, you get retired people who can take the time off and union workers whose salaries are covered, which is not really that representative.”

Few companies pay employees for jury duty and so faced with losing their income, many prospective jurors try to avoid being selected.

“If we’re going to stop them running away we’ve got to rethink the issues,” he says.

The report also makes several recommendations around explaining to potential jurors when they are called to the selection pool about what they can expect and what they are entitled to starting with an information package.

It also suggests debriefing sessions after their service ends, psychological support if the evidence has been gruesome, and a more lenient rule to allow them to disclose their deliberations to a counsellor afterwards. Other recommendations include better lounge areas for jurors.

“It’s important to get this right,” says Derstine. “The law says we need 12 jurors to start a trial and nine to finish because sometimes jurors drop out.

"Paying them a decent compensation would not only incent more potential jurors to stay and serve but it’s a small cost compared to the $15,000 a day in resources at play for each day of trial. If a jury collapses we have to start all over again and that’s a substantial cost.”

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