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Canada Too late to fix problematic forms for 2016 jury eligibility, Ontario says

Instructions accompanying eligibility questionnaires list more than two dozen criminal convictions that do not lead to automatic exclusion from juries – the problem, however, is that three of the listed crimes do in fact disqualify someone from being a juror.

Mike McLaughlin/The Canadian Press

It's too late to fix government forms that could lead to ineligible people finding their way onto a jury next year, according to Ontario's Ministry of the Attorney General.

However, the ministry also said it would be taking unspecified steps to try to head off that possibility after The Canadian Press pointed out errors in the information sent to prospective jurors.

"Each year, jury questionnaires are sent out starting in September as the first step in compiling the next year's jury roll," Heather Visser, a spokeswoman for the ministry, said in an e-mail.

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"Because the Juries Act requires the questionnaires to be mailed out each year by Oct. 31, the questionnaires for the 2016 jury roll have already been sent out."

The questionnaire and instruction sheet that determine initial jury eligibility, Ms. Visser also said, can only be changed by a formal regulation amendment.

Instructions accompanying the eligibility questionnaire – 560,924 forms were mailed out over the past month – list more than two dozen criminal convictions that do not lead to automatic exclusion from juries.

The problem, however, is that three of the listed crimes do in fact by law automatically disqualify someone from being a juror.

The upshot is that someone convicted of those offences – impersonating a peace officer, committing an indecent act or making indecent or repeated telephone calls – could inadvertently find their way onto a panel in violation of the rules.

Ms. Visser did say the risk that a person found guilty of one of the ineligible offences could end up sitting on a jury is "minimal" given the low number of convictions related to the offences and other steps in place to establish jury rolls.

Either way, she said, both the Criminal Code and Juries Act anticipate this type of circumstance.

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"An oversight on eligibility or qualifications of jurors is not a ground for overturning a verdict," Ms. Visser said.

Several legal experts, however, said the problem taints the process and could damage perceptions about the administration of justice.

"[The ministry] seems to be treating this somewhat cavalierly," veteran defence lawyer Tony Bryant said.

"What if the defence was denied a challenge for cause based on bias? What if the defence applied for information about all this and was denied? What if one of the charges was somehow related to what the juror had been convicted of?"

Ms. Visser said the government would take steps to amend the questionnaire, in use for years, to remove the faulty information – the problem forms remain available online from the ministry – although it was too late to do so now. For the time being, she said, the ministry would be taking steps to alert all prospective jurors to the problem.

She refused to say what those steps might be.

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"We are currently reviewing options to identify the best method," Ms. Visser said. "It is premature to comment further."

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