There has recently been a fair amount of commentary in the news surrounding an upcoming 42 week jury trial . The trial requires 12 members of the public to be present at the nearly year long trial, which would prevent those people from making a livelihood or attending school. There has been a great deal of concern, as the possibility of finding people capable of being summoned is miniscule.
Jury trials are often considered to originate from the 1215 Magna Carta, which makes reference to “12 sworn knights” and “judgement by peers”. At that time, the knights were used in a way similar to the United States’ grand juries - where the members determine whether there is enough evidence for the case to even go to trial. In present day Canada, juries (called “petty/petite juries”) are only used for ultimate determination of guilt, and our juries are made up of 12, 13, or 14 members .
The right to trial by jury is not absolute - in civil cases, there is no constitutional right to a jury. In criminal cases, trial by jury is compulsory for indictable offences unless waived by the accused person . There have been several court cases in which litigants have attempted to argue that their right to trial by jury is an absolute right (for any offence rather than solely for indictable offences) originating from the Magna Carta, and should therefore take precedence over the current provisions of the Criminal Code . However, the courts across Canada have consistently held that the Magna Carta has no constitutional authority. While we have often discussed the significance of the Magna Carta in today’s legal world, it must be remembered that modern legislation renders any actual “binding” phrase from the Magna Carta as inoperative .
What do you think about trial by jury – are they a necessary part of criminal trial, and should civil matters be given the same protections? Should there be a restriction for the length of a trial when there are juries involved? Or should trials be restricted to judge alone, no matter the circumstance?
Let us know what you think in the comments below, or send us a tweet @msmagnacarta !
 Halsbury’s Laws of Canada, Criminal Procedure, “Trial Procedure: Juries” (VIII.4.(5)) at HC2-329 “Composition of jury”
 Criminal Code, RSC 1985, c C-46, s 471
 R v Dobell,  BCJ No 1041, 5 CR (3d) 233 (SC) ; R. v. Lindsay, 2003 BCSC 1203; DADS Transport Systems Inc v MacDonald,  BCJ No 1922, 65 ACWS (3d) 409 (SC); R v Jebbett, 2003 BCCA 69; Harper v Atchison, 2001 SKQB 38; Fearn v Canada (Customs), 2014 ABQB 114
 Harper v Atchison, 2001 SKQB 38 at para 12