Jury Duty

For more information about jury duty go to the Courts of Nova Scotia website at courts.ns.ca/general/jury.htm


Q - Who can be a juror?

A - In Nova Scotia you are eligible for jury duty if you are a Canadian citizen and aged 18 or over. The Juries Act is the Nova Scotia law that sets the rules for who can be a juror.

However, some people are disqualified from serving as a juror, others can ask to be excused because of their particular circumstances. They are listed below, under Can I be excused from jury duty?.

Q -How are jurors chosen?

A - Nova Scotia is divided into 14 jury districts. Each district has a jury co-ordinator who is appointed by Nova Scotia’s Minister of Justice.

Once a year the jury co-ordinator draws up a jury list from names on Nova Scotia’s Health Registration list.  Names are randomly selected from the database. No health information is provided, just names and addresses.   The list is approved by a judge. Every year in Nova Scotia, approximately 25,000 names are picked.

There are several criminal and civil jury terms from September to June. There are usually no jury trials in July or August, but they can happen. Each jury term in Halifax and Sydney is about one month long and they run almost continuously from September through to June. In other areas of the province, the terms range from two to three weeks, and in some areas twice a year or four times a year. Usually, several trials are scheduled for each term. Most trials last from two to six days but some last longer.

When a criminal or civil jury term has been scheduled, the jury co-ordinator, in consultation with a judge, will make up a jury panel by picking names at random from the jury list.  The panel consists of hundreds of names depending on how many jurors are needed.

If your name is selected for the jury panel, you will get a Summons to Jury Duty (juror summons) in the mail at least 10 days ahead of time, telling you when and where you have to go to court.  You’ll find a sample jury summons on the Courts of Nova Scotia website: courts.ns.ca/general/jury.htm

The  Juror Summons will include a Juror Information Form that you must complete and send back right away to the court in the envelope provided.  The form will ask for telephone numbers where you can be reached. It will also ask for your occupation.

Once you get a Juror Summons, you should arrange your schedule so you will  be available during the jury term. The length of service depends on the jury term but can be up to a month or longer.  You must go to court on the day the first trial is scheduled to begin. If you are not picked as a member of the jury for the first trial, you will be excused and told to return to court on the first day of the second trial, and so on.  You are liable to serve on all the juries picked for the term but in practice you are likely to have to serve on only one or two.

If you get a Summons to Jury Duty and have questions after reading the information package, you should call the jury coordinator at the court. The number to call is on the Summons, or go to courts.ns.ca for court contact information.


Q - Why should I serve on a jury?

A - Jury duty is an important responsibility in our society and an important part of the Canadian justice system. It gives citizens an opportunity to be directly involved in the administration of justice. In a criminal trial, it gives an accused person the chance to be judged by a group of his or her peers. In a civil trial it provides a person who has made a claim against another a chance for his or her claim to be judged by other citizens.

Q - Can I serve on a jury if I am receiving Employment Insurance?

A - Serving on a jury will not affect your Employment Insurance (EI) benefits.  However, if you are on Employment Insurance and you receive a summons to jury duty you should contact the Jury Coordinator. The number to call is on the summons.

Q - Can I be excused from jury duty?

A -  Some people are automatically disqualified from serving as a juror, others can ask to be excused because of their particular circumstances.

People who are automatically excused from jury duty include (this is not a complete list):

  • the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia
  • members of the Senate and House of Commons of Canada (Senators or MPs);
  • members of the Nova Scotia House of Assembly (MLAs); 
  • judges, justices of the peace;
  • lawyers, articling students and anyone who is attending or has attended law school;
  • a jury co-ordinator or other employees of the Department of Justice (federal or provincial), such as probation officers, sheriffs, and correctional officers;
  • court officers such as court clerks;
  • officers of the Canadian Armed Forces and members of the Armed Forces who are on active duty,  or persons who are active in the reserves;
  • police officers;
  • persons who have served two years or more in jail for a criminal offence.

If you are not a Canadian citizen or are under 18 you cannot serve as a juror.

As well, anyone may ask to be excused from jury duty if they have a good reason.  For example, you may ask to be exused if:

  • you are ill or have an acceptable medical reason;
  • serving on a jury would cause you financial hardship;
  • it would be a serious inconvenience for you.

A judge may excuse you at any time before the trial starts if:

  • you have a personal interest in the issue being tried;
  • you know or are related to someone involved with the case including the judge or lawyers;
  • you can show personal hardship or have some other reason which persuades the judge to excuse you.  For example, the trial is in French and you only speak and understand English, or vice versa.

In the case of a French or bilingual trial, a questionnaire is sent with the Juror Summons to determine your proficiency in French or, as the case may be, in both official languages.

You may be able to defer (put off) your jury duty if you are able to serve but have a good reason why it would be inconvenient to do so during the term for which you are called.

Q - How do I apply to be excused from jury duty?

A - If you believe you have a good reason to be excused from jury duty, you should fill out the “Application to be excused/deferred from Jury Duty”.  A copy of the form is provided with the Juror Summons, and a sample  is on the Courts of Nova Scotia website at courts.ns.ca/general/jury.htm.  Send your completed application to the jury coordinator.  The jury coordinator’s contact information is on your Juror Summons.

The jury coordinator may excuse a person from jury duty if it will cause hardship, or if the person is ill.  Unless the person is 70 years or older, a person seeking to be excused because of illness will need to provide a Medical Certificate signed by his or her doctor.

The jury coordinator can also defer (put off) a person's jury duty to a later jury session, if it would be very inconvenient to do jury duty at the assigned session.

If the jury coordinator refuses to excuse the person, the coordinator will send the application to a judge.  The judge may refuse to excuse the person, or may excuse them because of illness, hardship or inconvenience.

The person can also ask to be excused when he or she goes to court on the day set out in the Juror Summons.

After a trial has begun, the judge may excuse or discharge a juror at any time. For example, in a criminal trial, if a juror becomes ill during the trial, the judge may excuse the juror and allow the trial to go ahead, as long as there are at least 10 jurors left.

Q - What happens if I do not show up for jury duty?

A - If you do not show up for jury duty and you have not been excused beforehand, you may be arrested. You will be brought before the court to tell the judge why you did not show up. The judge may fine you up to $1,000. Click here to read more about failing to appear for jury duty.

If an emergency prevents you from showing up, you should contact the court as soon as possible. You will find the phone number for the court administration office and the jury coordinator on your Juror Summons, or look under ‘Courts’ in the government section of the telephone book, or online at courts.ns.ca

Q- Can my employer fire me for taking time off for jury duty?

A - When you have been called to jury duty, your employer must, by law (Nova Scotia Labour Standards Code), give you an unpaid leave of absence from work for as long as you are needed. This may be a few hours, a day, several days or months during the jury term. Your employer must keep your job open for you.

When you return to work, your employer is not allowed to demote you or to decrease your wages because you were required for jury duty. However, your employer does not have to pay you for the time you are away from work, unless it is a term of your employment contract, although many employers are willing to do so.  Speak with your employer.  If you are having difficulty getting the time off, contact Nova Scotia Labour Standards at 1 888 315-0110 or 902-424-4311.

Q - What kind of cases do juries hear?

A -Your Juror Summons  may or may not tell you if you are being called for a civil jury term or a criminal jury term, or both.

Most jury terms in Nova Scotia are for criminal cases. A criminal case is one in which the Crown is trying to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person charged with the crime is guilty. The Crown represents the interests of the general public. Some examples of criminal trials which might have a jury are murder, attempted murder, serious assaults, and robbery.

In a civil trial, the jury has to settle a private dispute between two parties. Lawyers involved represent the interests of the private parties involved in the dispute.  The plaintiff must prove his or her case on the balance of probabilities. Some examples of civil trials which might have a jury are land disputes, personal injury claims, claims for defamation (libel, slander) and claims of false arrest.

Q - Will I be paid for jury duty?

A - If you are selected for jury duty you will receive $40 a day, plus a travel allowance of 20 cents per kilometre for each trip to the courtroom. Your parking will be paid only if you are selected as a juror. You have to provide your own meals. If you have to stay overnight in a hotel while the jury is in the process of reaching a verdict (decision), your meals and hotel room will be paid.

If you are not selected as a juror but traveled more than 100 kilometres from your home to the courthouse, you will be paid 20 cents per kilometre for your travel.

Q - How long should I expect to be in court each day?

A - Usually, courts sit from 9:30 am to 4:30 or 5 pm in the afternoon, with a morning break (called a recess), a lunch hour and an afternoon recess.

Jurors can go home every evening during the trial itself (when the evidence is being heard). Jurors are not allowed to go home during deliberations, that is, during the time they are deciding the verdict. In most cases, juries complete their deliberations within a single day. Usually, the only time you will have to stay away from home overnight is if you are deliberating beyond 6 pm in the evening, or thereabouts, without reaching a verdict. This does not happen very often, and when it does, it is usually for only one night.

Q - What should I wear to court? 

A -There is no special dress requirement for jurors, but you should wear something neat, clean, fairly conservative and comfortable.

It is a good idea to bring a book or something to help you pass the time because there may be some delays during the first day, before the trial begins. However, when you are in the courtroom, you must focus your attention entirely on what is being said and done.

Q - Who will be in court during the trial?

A - The following is a list of the people who will likely be in court, and a brief explanation of their roles:

  • the judge - has authority in the courtroom and directs the proceedings. If the accused is found guilty, the judge decides on the sentence
  • the sheriff or a deputy sheriff -  provides security in the courtroom
  • the court clerk or court reporter - organizes the selection of jurors from among the jury panel, keeps a record of exhibits at the trial and looks after other administrative matters. He or she also administers oaths, announces when court is in session and when it is recessed, and makes sure the recording equipment is working properly
  • counsel - lawyers are referred to as 'counsel' in the courtroom. In a criminal trial the counsel for the prosecution, representing the interests of the general public, is usually called the Crown Attorney. The counsel for the accused is called the defence counsel. In a civil case the person bringing the action is known as the plaintiff. The person the plaintiff is bringing action against is known as the defendant. Their lawyers are referred to as counsel for the plaintiff and counsel for the defendant.
  • the accused: the person charged with a criminal offence, that is the person on trial.
  • Witnesses will be called into the courtroom in turn to give evidence at trial. The courts are also open to the public and media who may watch the proceedings.

Q - How are jurors picked? 

A - Sometimes, the first day of the trial can be a frustrating day for members of the jury panel. The accused may change his or her plea to 'guilty' just when the trial is about to begin. If this happens, the jury panel may be sent home and told to return the following week, or they may be told to wait for another trial scheduled for later in the day.

If the trial goes ahead, the first task of the day will be for the Crown and defence counsel to select 12 jury members from the jury panel.

The jury panel will meet in the courtroom, the court reporter will call out everyone's name, and make a note of any member of the panel who is not there to answer.

The judge will ask if any members of the jury panel believe they should be excused from sitting on this particular case. Now is the time for you to speak up if you feel you have a reason to be excused, for example, you have a friend or relative who is involved in the case. You should also tell the judge if you have any sort of special interest in the case or a strong emotional response to the crime. For example, a close friend of yours may have been the victim of a similar crime, or the case may involve a crime against a child and you have a child the same age. The judge will decide whether to excuse you.

The names of potential jurors will then be picked at random from a box of cards containing the names of every member of the jury panel. If your name is picked, you will be asked to stand in the jury box so that you and the accused can see each other. The Crown Attorney and the defence counsel may ask you questions to help them decide whether to 'challenge' you.

"Challenges" and stand by

The Crown Attorney and the defence lawyer can each 'challenge' you or any other prospective juror, this means that they request that you not sit on the jury. There are two basic types of challenges: 'peremptory challenges' and 'challenges for cause.'

A peremptory challenge allows the Crown Attorney or the defence lawyer to challenge a juror without any reason or explanation.

They are each allowed:

  • 20 peremptory challenges where the accused is charged with first degree murder or high treason,
  • 12 peremptory challenges where the accused could be sentenced to prison for more than five years if convicted
  • 4 peremptory challenges where the accused is charged with any other offence.

A challenge for cause is when the Crown Attorney or the defence counsel believes after questioning you, that there are reasons that disqualify you from serving at that particular trial. There is no limit to the number of challenges for cause.

If you are challenged or excused, keep in mind that this is not a judgment on your ability or on your standing in the community. There may be 150 people or more on a jury panel. The lawyers, working from two opposing points of view, must narrow it down to the 12 they believe would be the best jurors for the particular case.

Stand by - the judge may order a member of the jury panel to 'stand by' if that person has asked to be excused for reasons of personal hardship or for some other reason.

If a full jury has not been selected after all the names on the jury panel have been called, persons on 'stand by' may be recalled.

They will be sworn in as jurors unless the judge excuses them or they are challenged by counsel.

Q - What happens if not enough jurors are selected from the panel?

A - It is possible that the lawyers may go through the entire jury panel and not find 12 people whom they both feel would make suitable jurors for the case. At this point, the judge may order the sheriff, or any other officer, to immediately summon as many people as necessary to complete the jury.

This does not happen very often, but when it does it can be dramatic. The sheriff may go out on the street, usually right in front of the courthouse, and order people who are walking by to report to the court for jury duty. If this should ever happen to you, you are legally required to do as the sheriff says.

Q - What happens once the jury is selected?

A - If you are selected as a jury member you will promise or swear on a Bible -  or in whatever way is appropriate to your religion - that you will faithfully execute the duties involved. If you do not have a religious belief, you can simply affirm that you will faithfully execute a juror's duties. All forms of oath and affirmation are equally valid.

Q - What is the jury's responsibility? 

A -At the beginning of the trial, the judge will explain the jury's duties and how the trial will be conducted. The jury's primary duty is to listen to all the evidence presented in court and to decide the facts of the case. This may not be easy because trials usually take place long after the event, and witnesses often have differing and conflicting memories of what happened.

Trials are not contests between lawyers; there are neither winning nor losing lawyers, only winning or losing clients. Each lawyer will try to present the facts of his or her client's case in the most favourable light. As a juror, your role is to decide what the facts are and whether the Crown or, in a civil trial, the plaintiff has proved its case. Do not be influenced by whether you like or dislike the lawyer, the accused or the plaintiff.

The jury's other duty is to apply the law to the facts of the case. The judge will explain the law to you. You will be told to approach the case with an open mind and without any idea as to whether the accused is guilty.
As the trial proceeds, it is important that jurors keep an open mind and listen to all the evidence, the arguments of both the Crown Attorney and the defence counsel and the judge's instructions.

Jurors must not leave the courtroom while the trial is in progress. If you need to leave the courtroom for any reason other than during the usual breaks, you should pass a note to the deputy sheriff who will be nearby and who will, in turn, pass it to the judge. The judge will likely call an adjournment and the whole jury will retire to the jury room.

Q - What happens at a criminal trial?

A - The Crown Attorney will begin by saying what the accused is charged with, what the Crown intends to prove, and how the Crown will present the proof. These opening statements are not part of the evidence. The entire court proceeding and all the evidence is tape recorded so that it can be played back if necessary.

The Crown Attorney will then present the case for the Crown in the form of evidence. This may include documentary evidence (such as photos, autopsy reports or sworn statements) and the spoken testimony of witnesses. The Crown Attorney will question the witness. This is called 'direct examination' or 'examination in chief'.

Next, the counsel for the defence will have a chance to 'cross-examine' the witness. The defence counsel can ask questions about points that were raised in the direct examination.  The defence counsel does not have to cross-examine every witness, and will usually only do so if it will help the accused’s case.
After the Crown Attorney has presented his or her case, the lawyer for the defence can also present evidence and call witnesses. The defence counsel will conduct the direct examination and the Crown Attorney may cross-examine the witnesses.

The defence does not have to present evidence. The accused does not have to give evidence.  

Admissible evidence

The laws of evidence are designed to make sure that the jury's decision is based only on evidence that is legally admissible. Therefore, when one counsel is questioning a witness, the other counsel may object to the questions being asked or the answers being given. The judge will either overrule the objection (that is, reject the objection) or sustain it (that is, agree with the objection). If the objection is sustained, the judge will tell the jury to ignore the answer given by the witness or may instruct the witness not to answer the question.

Some objections cannot be dealt with right away. Counsel may have arguments as to why the evidence should, or should not, be admissible. In such situations the judge may call for a 'voir dire' (pronounced vwa dear) to listen to counsels' arguments. The jury will have to leave the courtroom during the voir dire. The judge will decide if the evidence is admissible and will then recall the jury.

After all the evidence, the Crown Attorney and the defence lawyer will each sum up his or her case for the jury. These closing statements (sometimes called summations) can help jurors understand the evidence and the issues. However, they are not part of the evidence.

Q - What is the judge's charge to the jury?

A - After counsels' closing statements, the judge will instruct the jury. This is called the charge to the jury. The judge will usually summarize the evidence and outline the law, which applies to the case. Often, the judge will point out the facts of which the jury must feel convinced of before they can return with a verdict of guilty.

The standard of proof in a criminal trial is 'proof beyond a reasonable doubt'. This means that based on the evidence presented, the jury must have no reasonable doubt that the accused committed the offence he or she is charged with. The judge will explain this to you in detail.

Q - How does a jury reach a verdict?

A - After the judge's charge to the jury, the jury will go to the jury room to decide upon a verdict. The jury is expected to:

  • discuss all the evidence and assess its value and importance
  • decide the facts of the case
  • apply the law as instructed by the judge, and
  • reach a verdict.

The jury will choose one juror to act as a spokesperson and to lead the proceedings in the jury room. This person is called the jury foreperson.

In most cases you will be going from memory, although some judges encourage jurors to take notes. A sheriff will be available to the jury in case they want to refresh their memory about a piece of evidence. The sheriff will take the jury's request to the judge. The judge will have the tape of the particular segment of the trial replayed to you in open court. The jury can also ask the sheriff to relay any questions to the judge. From the time the jury leaves the courtroom to the time it reaches its verdict, jury members must not speak with anyone other than each other and the sheriff.  Failure to observe these rules could result in a mistrial.

Q - Do all the jury members have to agree on the verdict?

A - In a criminal trial the jury verdict must be unanimous, that is all 12 jurors must agree.  Jury members must decide for themselves, without direction from the judge, the lawyers, or anyone else, how they will proceed in the jury room to reach a verdict.

If the jury members cannot reach an agreement on the verdict within a reasonable period of time, the judge will declare a mistrial and discharge the jury.  It is up to the Crown to decide whether to apply for a new trial. A jury that cannot agree on a verdict is called a 'hung' jury.

If the jury reaches a unanimous decision, everyone will go back into the courtroom and the jury foreperson will announce the verdict. The court clerk may ask each member of the jury to confirm that he or she agrees. The judge will thank the jury and discharge them. If the verdict is not guilty, the judge will acquit the accused.  If the verdict is guilty, the judge will sentence the accused either then or at a later date.

In Canada, the deliberations of the jury are conducted in secrecy and you must not talk about what went on in the jury room. If you do, you could be charged with a criminal offence

Q - How is a jury selected in a civil trial?

A -  The civil jury is selected in much the same way as a jury for a criminal trial, except that the process is less formal and is completed more quickly.

A civil jury has seven members.  Their names are chosen at random from among the jury panel. Counsels for the plaintiff and defendant may each peremptorily challenge four jurors.  A peremptory challenge allows the lawyer to challenge a juror without any reason or explanation. If there are several plaintiffs and defendants with different interests, the judge may allow each group that has a common interest to peremptorily challenge four jurors.

Q - What happens in a civil trial?

A - The process is similar to that of a criminal trial, but there are some differences:

  • In a civil trial you must resolve a private dispute between two parties.
  • In a civil trial there are seven jurors, not 12.
  • The plaintiff must prove that the defendant is liable on a balance of probabilities, otherwise the plaintiff's case must be dismissed. This is a lower standard of proof than in a criminal trial. It means that if the jury believes there is greater than 50 percent chance that the defendant is liable, the jury will find him 100 percent liable.
  • A civil jury may be asked to return a verdict in different ways. The jury may be asked to:
    • answer a question or simply to find in favour of one of the parties,  or
    • assess damages or decide the amount of compensation which is due to one of the parties.
  • In a civil case, if the jury reaches a decision within the first four hours of deliberation it must be unanimous. If deliberations go beyond four hours, only a majority (five out of seven) verdict is necessary.

This page was developed with the support of a financial contribution from the Department of Justice Canada.

July 2016

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