Canadians are used to reading American books and watching TV programs where lawyers for parties in court actions amass material about potential jurors. John Grisham’s The Runaway Jury comes to mind. However, in Canada, the Ontario Court of Appeal recently overturned a murder conviction because it ruled that the Crown prosecutors had inside information about potential jurors which gave them an advantage over the defence. The Court wrote
“This mismatch came about in large measure because of breaches by the Crown of its own policies, misuse of police databases and breaches of privacy legislation. There can be no doubt that the public and an accused would view with grave suspicion a jury selection process that unfairly favours the Crown.”
A memorandum of practice dating back to 2006 advised Crown counsel that they could only request police criminal record checks and that if the results indicated that a potential juror might not be impartial, that the information should be disclosed to the defence. Shortly after the Court of Appeal decision, the Supreme Court of Canada weighed in on the issue. It ruled that authorities should be allowed to do limited background checks on potential jurors for past criminal convictions and pending criminal charges, and that relevant information the Crown receives must be turned over to the defence.
R. v. Spiers, 2012 ONCA 798 (CanLII)
R. v. Yumnu, 2012 SCC 73 (CanLII)