Jury Duty: A Behind the Scenes Peek at What Actually Happens in a Civil Courtroom

Perhaps you have been summonsed for jury duty, or perhaps you have been watching one of many court room shows (like Amazon Prime’s new comedy “Jury Duty”) – either way you may have some questions about how jury trials actually play out.

First, it is important to note that jury trials look different from place to place, and depend on the type of trial. In Ontario, a civil trial has 6 jurors, plus one person selected to be an alternate jury member. The alternate is usually dismissed at the end of the first day of trial. If, for any reason, one of the 6 jurors is not able to serve as a juror for the entire trial, the trial can proceed with as few as 5 jurors.  However, criminal jury trials in Ontario have 12 jurors.

The first day a potential juror appears in Court is for jury selection. When the Court is selecting jurors, the Court may be selecting jurors for more than one trial. So, even if a potential juror is not selected to be a juror for the first trial – that does not mean they will not be selected as a juror later in the day.

When it comes to selecting who the jurors are in an Ontario civil jury trial, potential jurors are called by their roll number or panel number. The lawyers have little information about the jurors as they are called. All they really know are the jurors’ names, their addresses, and their occupations. The lawyers can ask limited questions to get more information about the jurors – but they can not launch a full-fledged inquiry to learn about the juror. 

The lawyers for each party do have the opportunity to challenge up to 4 jurors each. They might choose to do this based on factors such as the juror’s occupation, or the juror’s age, if they think that juror will be more likely to favor the other party’s case. However, the lawyers do not have to state the reason for challenging a juror. If a juror is challenged, they will not be required to sit as a juror for that particular trial. But, they may be called as a juror for another trial later in the day. 

If there is a reason a potential juror feels they cannot sit as a juror, they will have an opportunity to advise the Court and the presiding Judge may excuse that juror.

Once the jurors are selected, the trial will begin. Trials can be just a few days, or a few months. Often, they last a couple of weeks.

As a juror, you will not be paid any fee for the first 10 days of serving jury duty. Beyond that, jurors will be paid a fee of $40 per day for the next 40 days, and then $100 per day for the remaining days of the trial. Some employers will pay their employees for the time they serve as a juror. 

Jurors are seated together in the courtroom. They are provided with materials to take notes, but are not required to do so.

The jurors’ first major task is to listen attentively to the cases each lawyer presents. The lawyers will show the jurors all of the evidence in the case. This can include showing them objects, showing them videos or pictures, showing them animations and illustrations, and of course letting them hear the testimony of all witnesses. The jurors will get to review some evidence again, like pictures or documents, while they are making their deliberations.

In a jury trial, the lawyers and the Judge have an important duty to make sure the jury only hears evidence that is relevant and reliable. It would be unfair to the parties if jurors considered information that was not provided to them from the parties in the Courtroom. For this reason, jurors are instructed not to do any outside research about the case – this means no Google searches, and no speaking with friends or family to get their opinions.

That being said, there is a lot of information that jurors are not told; and it is information that might impact how they answer the questions the Court puts to them. For example, jurors are often not told that in motor vehicle accident cases, and some other cases, the Defendant at trial does not pay any money to the Plaintiff – the money comes from the Defendant’s insurer – whether that insurer is a home insurer, an auto insurer, or a general liability insurer.

Jurors are also not told that in motor vehicle accident cases the Plaintiff’s award for their pain and suffering after an injury may be subject to a deductible of nearly $40,000.00.

In Ontario, jurors sitting on civil trials are not sequestered (i.e. isolated from the rest of the public) during deliberations. Jurors sitting on criminal trials may be sequestered during deliberations.

The jurors’ next major task is deliberating (i.e. deciding how to answer the questions before them in the case). Deliberating happens once the lawyers are done presenting their cases and making their arguments.

Before deliberations begin, the jury will select their foreperson. The foreperson’s main duties including asking questions to the Court on behalf of the jury, and reading the jury’s verdict to the Court.

Jurors deliberate in a private room where they can speak freely. They can review the evidence and debate the issues. Their goal is to answer a set of questions which the Court gives them. The key questions will often include deciding exactly how much the case is worth, and who is responsible for any wrongdoing. For example, the Court may ask the jury to decide if the defendant alone caused a motor vehicle accident, and to determine any monetary damages arising therefrom.

At least 5 jurors must be in agreement on the answer to each question the Court puts to the jury. This means that if there are 6 jurors, the jury does not need to come to a unanimous answer to each question. The same 5 jurors need not come to agreement for every question.

Being a juror is an important and challenging job. The questions that jurors have to deliberate upon may not have obvious answers. But, the Court will provide ample instructions to jurors throughout the trial to support the jury. 

Additional information can be found at the website for the Ontario Superior Court of Justice or in the Juries Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. J.

About the Authors

Rayanna is devoted to advocating for clients so they can focus on rebuilding their lives. She has seen firsthand the profound impact an injury can have on a victim and their families and believes that navigating a complex legal system should be the least of their worries. Effective communication, compassion and commitment is the cornerstone of Rayanna’s practice.

To learn more about Rayanna, please click here.