B.C. considers elimination of civil jury trials

·2 min read

The Province of B.C. has invited citizens to have their say on the future of civil jury trials, and will consider abolishment as one of three options in their consultation process.

The announcement was made on Aug. 19, with feedback being taken until Sept 30.

The remaining two options are to continue with jury trials or restrict them to particular cases, such as defamation, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution.

Fort St. John corporate litigation lawyer Steven Cope says civil jury trials should be preserved as tradition, an inherited right of all commonwealth countries.

“They’re scary steps. If the rationale is to speed up the court process, then that’s a red herring,” he said. “Civil jury trials contribute very little to the delays inherent in the justice system. The right to a trial by your peers stretches back a long time in our common law jurisprudence.”

Jury trials have been suspended since last March to minimize delays created due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and will remain so until Oct. 8, 2022.

Cope added jury trials are necessary to uphold the reasonable persons test, a legal principle which outlines the expected behaviour of an ordinary person in any given setting and scenario.

“What better way than a jury of your peers, they’re in a perfect position to assess all the factors,” said Cope.

He also noted jury trials are more expedient, with trials by a judge only taking up to six months or more. In the past ten years, 238 civil jury trials were conducted, representing only 30% of all jury trials in B.C.

Trial Lawyers Association of BC President Kevin Gourlay says their stance is also to preserve tradition.

"Our view is that the right to a civil jury is an integral part of the civil justice system in the province," said Gourlay. "Our organization supported in good faith the measures during the pandemic to restrict the use as part of the broader measures aimed at public safety. But we assumed then and now that we're not part of specific policy effort to remove the right to a civil jury."

Gourlay added that while being called for jury duty can be can an inconvenience for some citizens, civil juries are necessary for democracy.

"Civil juries are fundamentally democratic institutions. Members of the public are appointed to allow citizens to give their voice in determining the standards by which society is governed," said Gourlay. "They're intended to be incorruptible and free from any risk of corruption. They were created as a check on the most powerful in society."

The feedback sought by the Province will be used to inform future steps in amending the judicial process, and builds off a report the BC Law Institute requested by the Ministry of Attorney General.

tsummer@ahnfsj.ca

Tom Summer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Alaska Highway News

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