The Annual Jury Selection Process

Jury selection in Ontario is a year-round process. These are the steps.

Jury Roll Process

May:

Required number of jurors is calculated

Jurors can be required for criminal trials, civil trials and Coroner's inquests. Each of the 50 Superior Court of Justice locations in Ontario calculates the number of jurors they will need for the upcoming year. They consider several factors, such as the number of jurors required in previous years and the anticipated number of trials. They send their estimates to the Provincial Jury Centre.

September – November:

Questionnaires sent to potential jurors

Video clip: "Questionnaires are the first step"

To meet the estimated demand for jurors, juror questionnaires are mailed to people who are selected randomly from the most recent municipal enumeration (voters’) lists. For people living in a First Nation community, other lists, like Band lists, are used.

The questionnaire mailing includes a letter from the Attorney General, an instruction sheet and prepaid reply envelope.

People completing the questionnaire are invited to call one of two toll-free lines: one line provides recorded instructions on how to complete the questionnaire and one line reaches representatives at the Provincial Jury Centre who can answer questions about the questionnaire or the summons.

People who receive a questionnaire complete and return it in the pre-paid envelope. The completed questionnaires are used to determine whether a person is eligible for jury duty.

December:

Jury roll created and certified

Questionnaires are sorted for eligibility for jury duty. Jurors need to be Canadian citizens and at least 18 years old. Anyone who has attended court for jury duty in the previous three years cannot serve again. People in certain professions like firefighters, police officers and doctors as well as people convicted of a broad range of criminal offences are excluded from serving.

People who are eligible to serve are put on a list of potential jurors called the jury roll. The jury roll includes the name, address and occupation of the potential jurors. Once the jury roll is created, it is certified as accurate and complete. Jury panels are randomly selected from this list.

Jury Panel Process

January – December of the following year
(Year-round):

Jury panels are established

Video clip: "Being summoned"

Each court estimates the number of jurors they need for upcoming trials and sends the request to the Provincial Jury Centre. The Provincial Jury Centre uses a computer program to randomly select jury panels from the jury roll.

Criminal record checks are conducted through the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) on individuals randomly selected from the jury panel list. Those with a criminal record are removed from the list.

A jury panel is typically a group of 50 to 300 people who are summoned to a specific courthouse.

The summons indicates the date and court location to attend for jury duty. The court date for the jury panel members is at least 21 days after the date their summons is mailed.

About 180,000 people in Ontario are summoned for jury duty each year.

Jury Selection

January – December of the following year
(Year-round):

Juries selected

Jury panel members gather at the court location and on the date noted on their summons. The Court Services Officer divides them into groups for each trial that day. Panel members are then called into the courtroom so that all the parties can see the prospective jurors. Prospective jurors who are not selected may be assigned to another panel on the same day or asked to return the following day.

Each panel member has an assigned number which appears on a ballot card. Inside the courtroom, court staff randomly selects ballot cards and calls out the number of the panel member. In many courtrooms, these ballot cards are chosen lottery-style from a drum.

Panel members are given the opportunity to let the judge know of any difficulties they may experience in attending court on the date of their summons because of employment, schooling or a scheduled vacation. The judge may defer the panel member’s service to a later date, excuse the panel member or require them to serve on the jury. Whether selected for jury duty or excused, panel members are ineligible for jury duty for the next three years.

Note: Deferral and excusal requests may also be made to the local court office in advance of the summons date. These requests are considered by a judge.

Criminal Trials

Twelve people sit on a jury in a criminal trial.

In a criminal trial, the prospective juror goes to the front of the courtroom and faces the accused. At that point, the person is either accepted by each of the lawyers or rejected by one of them.

The Crown attorney and defence counsel can reject a limited number of prospective jurors without giving a reason. That is known as a peremptory challenge.

In some cases, counsel pose a few pre-determined questions to each prospective juror to ensure that they will be able to decide the case free of prejudice or bias such as:

Would your ability to judge the evidence in this case without bias be affected by anything you have heard or read about this case in the media?

This is called a challenge for cause.

Criminal juries are occasionally used to review applications by offenders serving jail sentences who are asking to be eligible for parole sooner.

Video Clip: "How the Crown and defense select jurors"

Civil Trials

Six people sit on a jury in a civil trial.

In a civil trial, the names of six prospective jurors are randomly drawn and those six people are seated in the jury box. At that point, counsel for the plaintiff and counsel for the defendant are asked if they wish to challenge any of the jurors. If a juror is challenged, he or she leaves the jury box and is replaced by another juror, called randomly from the panel.

The judge decides if the panel members who have been challenged return to the general panel or are dismissed from jury duty obligations.

Coroner’s Inquests

Five people sit on a jury in a Coroner’s inquest.

A Coroner’s inquest is a public hearing, presided over by a coroner. A coroner is a physician who is trained to investigate suspicious and unexpected deaths. Coroner’s inquest findings are used to generate recommendations to help improve public safety and prevent deaths in similar circumstances.

Trial

January – December of the following year
(Year-round):

Video clip: "Role of the judge"
Video clip: "Role of the Crown attorney and the defence counsel"

If selected to serve on a jury, jurors go to the court location on the date and time specified by the judge. Most trials begin on the same day as the jury is selected and last between a couple of days and a couple of weeks.


Serving as a Juror

It is the civic duty of all Canadian citizens 18 years of age and older to serve as a juror if selected. The experience may be different than you think. Find out more.

Video clip: "Why serve as a juror"
Video clip: "Serving as a juror"

Video: "Jury Duty and You" When people arrive at a courthouse to report for jury duty, they are shown a video outlining the role of the juror and what to expect if they are selected as a juror. This is that video.