Many of us dread receiving a mail summons to jury duty: not only are we expected to juggle around our schedule, make court appointments amidst difficult down-town parking, but we can’t very well shrug off what is considered our “civic duty.” At least we can plan for it. Or can we? In London Ontario, Superior Court Justice Kelly Gorman broke convention but not precedent when she ordered the Middlesex County Sherriff and local police to round up 20 bystanders from the street to find fill the spot of 12th jury member.
The roundup was legal. “It’s the kind of thing they talk about in law school,” said Middlesex Crown Attorney Geoff Beasley, “but something you rarely see in a city the size of London.”
The case involves three men –Irtiza Hussain, 38, Andew Singh, 35, and Randy Singh, 37 –charged of assault, forcible confinement, and threats to another man, on April 4, 2009. This wasn’t the first time their trial suffered difficulties: in October the case was adjourned after the jury pool had been depleted by other cases; in December, a jury trial went longer than expected, leaving the defense lawyer unavailable.
This time, more than 130 men and women had been vetted. Each of the three defense lawyers was allowed to challenge 12 people, rejecting them as jurors; the Crown also has the power to challenge 36 people. Jury members were filtered against any bias, prejudice, or partiality they may have for or against either the black defendants or the specific charges of the trial. Over 70 were so dismissed, and others were allowed dismissal on grounds of health issues or hardship; at the end of selections, they had only confirmed 11 jurors, with no more to choose from.
Randomly selecting jury candidates from the street is not without precedent. Toronto used the same method in 1988. As Defense lawyer Earl Levy said, “History is still with us.”
The first two potential jurors picked said they worked at the federal building at Queens avenue nearby.
“I’m sure this was quite a shock,” said Gorman to the first woman.
After the first two were rejected, the third choice, a bank employee, was accepted. The surprise juror could expect a week long trial, to begin the proceedings immediately. But after the recess, it was now lunch hour. The jury was sent home.
In the end, the jury and the rounded up 12th member weren’t even needed: the suspects pleaded guilty to the charges against them. They will be sentenced on January 25. The jury was phoned to be told their services were no longer needed.