Carrying out a civil jury trial amid an unabating pandemic is a challenge we can overcome together – albeit imperfectly – via ZOOM.
In keeping with social-distancing measures, all Ontario civil and criminal jury trials are postponed until September.
After testing several other web conferencing software and apps such as Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, Skype for Business, and BigBlueButton, I find ZOOM best positioned for remote civil jury trials due to its accessibility, intuitive user experience and rich features.
For skeptics, you’re probably using ZOOM’s free, basic subscription. Hey, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. I, too, used ZOOM’s basic plan for months and am happy to share that the app’s free features are intuitive and highly sufficient for public use.
As A Remote Juror, All You Need Is ZOOM Basic.
Since its last security breach, ZOOM made vast improvements. Its most recent safety upgrade – GCM encryption.
ZOOM signup is easy. All you need to do is a memorable email and password. Or if your memory is atrocious like mine, you can even opt to sign-in using your Facebook or Google account. Unlike Microsoft Teams, ZOOM works with most mobile devices, including Chromebooks, and desktops.
ZOOM’s Basic Features Include
- Video conferencing: HD video and voice, screen share, and the option to join by telephone.
- Web conferencing: hosts may control participants’ audio, video and screen sharing. (I find the “Raise Hand” feature particularly useful.)
- Group collaboration: hosts can split ZOOM meetings into groups. Participants can use “Breakout Rooms” to engage in private discussions.
- Group messaging: participants can message, send the group files, or screen captures.
Note: If the Court host has a subscription-based plan, jurors do not have to worry about meetings cutting off at the 40-minute mark.
To Host Virtual Trials, Courts Need To Upgrade To A Pro, Business Or Enterprise Plan.
Subscription-based plans include
- Longer meeting time – 24 hours for Pro subscription and unlimited duration for Business and Enterprise subscriptions; and
- Access to customized meeting URL, company branding, and meeting statistic reports.
For the many of us who are still tinkering with the concept of web conferencing, ZOOM offers live training to get your organization started, short training videos for those who need a refresher, and live chat support.
Why The Hard Push For Virtual Trials?
“Most matters are at a standstill and catching-up will take a very long time” is an elusive understatement. Currently, it takes about five to six years for an injured victim to receive fair compensation through the justice system. As Ministry of the Attorney General mentioned in its First Report, published in March 1995, “unreasonable delay is the enemy of justice and peace in the community.”
Delays To Justice Denies Access To Justice For The People.
Perhaps our biggest mistake lies in our attempt to find the perfect solution to solve the legal system’s woes when such perfection does not exist.
Insurance companies in personal injury matters often elect jury trials 99% of the time. Doing away with jurors using Covid-19 as an excuse should not be an option. Our legal system needs civil jury trials.
Civil Jury Trials: Ontario Needs To Stop With The All-or-nothing Approach.
Unlike criminal matters, a civil party’s right to a jury is not a constitutional right but legislated under the Juries Act, RSO 1990, c J.3.
We, as a community, resist change and are afraid to try new things. The thought of changing what has been the norm since the Middle Ages upsets us. Then what if, instead of predicting that our current archaic justice system will be made worse by modernization, we all take a baby step towards a “hybrid” approach.
A hybrid trial may be one in which the process of selecting jurors is conducted via web conference, and the remainder of the trial- particularly witness examinations – is conducted in person. The jury participates virtually throughout the entire hybrid trial.
The jury selection process from obtaining information from MPAC to establishing a jury panel to jury selection can and should be done remotely. The Court may conduct an entire jury selection process via web conference, even in cases where peremptory challenges are permitted.
On May 18, 2020, Jurors In Collin County, Texas, Rendered A Verdict Via ZOOM.
Although the virtual trial was a summary jury proceeding, Collin County acted and tested the boundaries in allowing jurors to appear remotely. During the virtual proceeding, there were two judges, one of whom was solely responsible for supervising the technological aspects.
As expected, web conferencing is imperfect.
The one-day trial had its fair share of technical glitches. But Monday’s summary jury proceeding was a step forward. It proved that hybrid civil jury trials are plausible.
“Doing it well now is much better than doing it perfectly later.” The Ministry should not let perfect get in the way of making good progress.
If you have any questions regarding this blog or need legal advice, MEHDI AU LLP is a full-service firm that serves clients across the GTA and Ontario.
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