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Government paid $250K for juries over the last five years
It’s a document some people dread finding in their mailbox more than bills — the notification from the government informing them that they’ve been called for jury duty.
It can be unsettling for those who worry about lost time from work and family, and the disruption of their daily life, not to mention the added cost of travelling to and parking at court every day.
There’s also the nervousness of finding yourself in the midst of a potentially high-profile trial involving disturbing testimony and sometimes graphic evidence.
Deciding someone’s legal fate is a huge responsibility — a civic duty that’s not taken lightly.
When your name is chosen — randomly from the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Care Plan, voters’ list and motor registration records — it’s considered a civic duty to comply, and according to the Jury Act, unless you’re a police officer, correctional officer, sheriff’s officer, court official, lawyer or a member of the House of Assembly or Parliament of Canada or their spouse, failure to show up is considered an offence that can result in a $1,000 fine or, in default of payment, three months’ jail time.
“I’m sick to my stomach thinking about this. I wouldn’t be here only for I’d end up in jail if I didn’t,” a potential juror for the recent murder trial for Craig Pope could be overheard whispering to a woman seated next to her a few months ago during jury selection at Newfoundland Supreme Court in St. John’s.
In March 2008, six people who had been called for jury selection but didn’t show up for the murder trial of Anne Norris had to explain themselves to a Supreme Court judge. Five of them were handed $50 fines.
And imagine being suddenly plucked from the grocery store or from your lunchbreak from work and being brought to a courtroom to be a potential juror in a high-profile murder case — something that happened in February after exemptions in the trial for Allan Potter left the jury short.
It happened for the same reason in September 2017 for the trial for Philip Wayne Pynn and Lyndon Malcolm Butler.
But having to serve on juries in this province involves less of a financial burden than it does in other parts of Canada.
Newfoundland and Labrador is the only province where provincial legislation stipulates that employers must grant a paid leave of absence for their employees if they are asked to serve on a jury.
Under the provisions of Section 37(1) of the provincial Jury Act, “an employer of a person, who is required to attend upon court as a witness, shall pay that person the same wages and give the same benefits as that person would have received if he or she had worked.”
Jurors in this province are also compensated for travel, child care and therapy, while parking, meals/refreshments and accommodations during sequestering are free of charge.
According to information obtained by The Telegram in an access to information request, in the last five fiscal years — between April 1, 2014, and March 31, 2019 — the provincial government has spent more than $250,000 on jury expenses, including transportation, meals/refreshments, accommodations, child care, therapy and rentals (audio, chairs and other equipment.).
In the busiest of those years, 2017-18, the government spent more than $76,500 for 192 jurors serving in 16 jury trials, including $40,000 for accommodations.
Jurors who don’t receive income from wages, self-employment, unemployment insurance, or employment support or a pension — other than a pension, monthly guaranteed income supplement or spouse's allowance under the Old Age Security Act (Canada), or a pension under the Canada Pension Plan — “may be paid out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund compensation for jury duty in an amount that may be prescribed including compensation for child care expenses,” the Jury Act states.
It’s a much different story in other Canadian provinces, where jurors don’t receive as much financial support.
In Ontario, for example, jurors get no compensation for the first 10 days of a trial. After that, they receive $40 a day for 11 to 49 days, and $100 per day after that. While employers are required to grant leave to employees for jury duty, they are not required to pay them.
“It’s one of the areas in which this province leads the way,” Newfoundland and Labrador Justice Minister Andrew Parsons said.
“People within the system have gone above and beyond (to ensure jurors are supported), and whether it’s the High Sheriff’s office, Victim Services, the courts themselves, everybody realizes the importance of it. I cannot stress enough — the importance of having a jury is huge. The justice system does not function without it … and we try to help out.”
Parsons said the current financial supports for jurors were first included in provincial legislation around 1991, during the Clyde Wells era.
"I cannot stress enough — the importance of having a jury is huge. The justice system does not function without it … and we try to help out.” — Andrew Parsons
While trials were fewer and shorter in duration back then, Parsons said government officials felt it was necessary to continue with the supports.
“Having available juries for these types of trials is of fundamental importance to the rule of law,” said Parsons.
Asked if he’s ever heard complaints from employers about being required to grant paid leave to employees for jury duty, he replied, “Never one.”
“I think it’s ingrained in people that this is an expectation. This is the law. It just goes to show the understanding that exists out there. It’s not something that’s ever come up, thankfully,” he said.
“We’re very lucky to be part of this court system and it takes a contribution from all of us.”
But according to the head of the provincial organization that represents employers, it’s not always easy for businesses to operate with employees out of commission and serving on juries.
Richard Alexander, executive director of the Newfoundland and Labrador Employers’ Council, said while employers understand the importance of juries to society, they can feel the crunch.
“Replacing that person not only means paying the wages of the person (on a jury), but also having to pay someone to replace that person. And if that person, say, is out for two weeks to two months or even longer, that can be difficult. So, essentially, the cost is double,” Alexander said.
“Sometimes, the employee is impossible to replace because they have a critical position. … With a small staff, productivity could be cut in half.”
Alexander said the government should have safeguards, such as a critical-position clause in place that exempts employees who perform key workplace roles.
“We understand that, politically, it’s difficult to go back and change legislation, but if government is going to require employers to pay an employee’s wages (while he or she serves on a jury), the employers should be protected. No one wants a specific individual who is irreplaceable going on jury duty. Everyone suffers, as a result.
“And we’re finding exemptions are tougher to get these days, so that would go a long way to help protect employers,” he said. “We want people to serve as jurors, but we want to minimize the impacts.”
Retired Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court Justice Leo Barry said judges usually take an individual’s circumstances into consideration when deciding jury exemption.
Barry, who served as a judge from 1989 until he retired last year, said he had to excuse many potential jurors who asked for exemptions because they would be financially overburdened.
“I was, and most judges are, reasonable and sensitive to the impact on (potential jurors) and to the small corporations who may be losing a key employee for that time, but I found generally, people don’t find excuses. They’re generally reasonable explanations and the courts understand,” Barry said, adding that exemptions are often given to people who have purchased plane tickets or have set plans for vacations prior to being called for jury duty.
“The courts don’t want anyone to feel like they’re being hard done by serving on a jury.”
In an effort to alleviate the emotional strain of serving on a jury, the government offers counselling for jurors.
Therapy costs were given in cost statistics last year as a result of some disturbing trials, including the murder trial for Trent Butt, who was convicted of killing his young daughter, Quinn.
“It’s something we were especially aware of, given the subject matter of some of these particular trials,” Parsons said. “I think that’s something that’s evolutionary as well. The mental health conversation is a lot different today than it was even five years ago, than it was 10 years ago or as it was back in 1991.”
A recent study on juror supports by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights found that several former jurors suffered from stress, anxiety and even post-traumatic stress disorder arising from jury service.
“It’s difficult enough a process to go through jury selection and then making sure you have that pool available,” Parsons said. “This is a civic duty and we expect people to do this, but we cannot ask for that expectation and then not be there on the other side to provide the support that comes with doing this.”
A woman who served on the Butt trial told The Telegram, “The emotional support was outstanding. We were provided with an Employee Assistance Program to avail of.
“I felt, as a juror, that we were treated with the utmost respect by everyone — from sheriff’s officers and clerks, to the judge. That made things a lot easier for us.”
Jury numbers in Newfoundland and Labrador by fiscal year (April 1-March 31)
Fiscal year Juries Jurors
2014-15 11 132
2015-16 8 96
2016-17 11 132
2017-18 16 192
2018-19 8 96
Total 54 648
SOURCE: Department of Justice and Public Safety, ATIPP Office
JURY PAY ACROSS CANADA
The following is a list of what each province in Canada pays jurors:
- Alberta: $50 per day.
- British Columbia: $20 for the first 10 days served. On the 11th day of jury duty, jurors receive $60 per day until the 50th day, at which point the amount increases to $100 a day for 50 or more days.
- Manitoba: $30 a day, beginning on the 11th day.
- New Brunswick: $20 for a half-day’s attendance (less than four hours) and $40 for a full day’s attendance (more than four hours). If a trial lasts 10 days or longer, a juror will be paid $40 for each half-day and $80 for each full day of attendance starting on the 10th day of trial.
- Newfoundland and Labrador: Jurors are not paid by the government. However, employers are required to pay full wages and benefits while people sit on a jury.
- Northwest Territories: $80 a day.
- Nova Scotia: $40 a day. Parking is reimbursed, while jurors get 20 cents per kilometre to drive to and from court.
- Ontario: Jurors are not paid or provided with any meals for the first 10 days that they serve. On the 11th day of jury duty, they will be paid $40 per day until the 50th day, at which point the amount will be increased to $100 per day for the rest of the trial.
- P.E.I.: $40 a day. Travel costs payable at the government employee rate.
- Quebec: $103 per day (until the 57th day, when it increases to $165).
- Saskatchewan: Prospective jurors for civil trials receive $15 a day during jury selection and $25 a day they sit on a jury. For criminal trials, sitting jurors are paid $80 a day if they aren’t paid by their employer, but nothing during jury selection.
- Yukon: $80 per day.