In late August I received letter from the Ministry of the Attorney General. Seeing the envelope an initial bolt of fear shot through me. It’s not that I had done anything wrong (and completely ignoring the fact that if I were really in trouble, that they likely wouldn’t notify me by mail), but one never really knows. Opening the letter it became clear that I was about to play an important role in Ontario’s judicial system:
It was a summons for jury duty.
I’d long thought it would be interesting to serve on a jury. I had sat on a jury once before, when I took a school trip to an old courtroom and took part in a re-enactment of historic trials. I unintentionally got myself thrown off the panel as I told the judge that I knew one of the accused. Not a good start to my jury career.
When I told people I’d been called for real, the response was split fairly evenly between those who thought it was important for me to serve and those who thought I should try to get excused.
I was torn as while it is vital to our system of justice that people do serve on juries, it fell in a week where, if I were to be selected, I would have had to put in another full day’s work in the office after court finished.
The day came and I arrived at the courthouse. Already the parking lot was choked with cars and there was a line-up running onto the sidewalk. Having neither jacket nor umbrella to protect me from the weather, I got more than a little damp waiting my turn.
I looked around at the folks in line with me and couldn’t help but think that in a few short hours I could be deciding the fate of some accused with 11 of these strangers.
Getting through security we were escorted a group at a time toward the courtroom, where we stood in another line to have our summonses checked. After proving I was who I claimed to be I went to find a seat in the courtroom.
The room was large and sparse with what looked like rows of church pews. It was already packed when I plopped myself down between two women on the front bench. Every now and again a court official would tell us to squish together as there were more coming.
After about 45 minutes a court service officer explained the process by telling us that when we were called we’d line up against the wall, joking that we wouldn’t be shot. He got a much bigger laugh when he told us to take all our belongings with us as we may not be returning.
A further 15 minutes later the judge came in, looking as judicial as they come. We rose and sat and he began to address us. He started by thanking us all for coming and then told us that due to some unforeseen legal reason he had agreed to push off the proceedings and rather than select a jury and have us come back in another three or four weeks he decided to dismiss us. He apologized again saying that if he had known he would have had us not come in, adding that it was just one of those things.
Upon hearing his words the woman to my right sprung up and bolted for the door as if she wanted to get out of there before the judge changed his mind.
As we all filed out the mood was jovial and somewhat relieved that we wouldn’t have to spend the day waiting around to be chosen. I was relieved too, but also disappointed.
Maybe next time.
— Gordon Cameron is Group Managing Editor of Hamilton Community News.