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It's time to let Canadian jurors speak freely about their verdicts, experts say

It's time to let Canadian jurors speak freely about their verdicts, experts say
From CBC - February 15, 2018

The jury's rationale for acquitting Gerald Stanleyof second-degree murder in the death of 22-year-old Cree man ColtenBoushiewill likelyremain a mystery.

That decision has sparked widespread anger and calls for reform of the justice system,and many Canadians want to know how thejury came to its conclusion.

But inCanada, jurors are prohibited by law from making any public comment about their deliberations ortheir reasons for a verdict, according toSection 649 of the Criminal Code.The penalty for running afoul of this law is a summary conviction, meaning the possibility ofsix months in prison, a fine of $5,000 or both.

Allan Rouben, a Toronto-based lawyerwho has blogged and written about this subject, believes it's time to change the law in Canadaand allow jurors to speak.

"I feelstrongly about the issue," he said, "and I feel that way from thebeliefthat the jury system is extremelyimportant, and we need to haveconfidencein ourinstitutions, and thatfosteringcommunicationby the jury with themediawill enhance confidence in the jury system."

'Helps the public to understand'

Rouben points to the United States, where jurors are allowed to speak freely to the press following a verdict.

"[It] helps the public tounderstandwhy a verdictwasmade, and todispelanyfeelingsthere could be that the jury verdict was irrational or stained by some improper purpose," he said.

Jury secrecy in Canadais rooted in old English common law, but its validityhas since been upheldby theSupreme Court ofCanada, which looked into the constitutionality of Section649in 2001.

Jurysecrecy, Justice Louise Arbour wrote in thatdecision, "promotes candour and the kind of full and frank debate that is essential to this type of collegial decision making."

Jurors"should be free to explore out loud all avenues of reasoning without fear of exposure to public ridicule, contempt or hatred," she wrote.

Jurorsconcerned about possible negative public exposure may be less inclined to argue for a verdict perceived as unpopular, Arbour wrote.

It's also important that jurors who hold minorityviewpoints do not feel pressured to retreat from their opinions because of potential repercussions associated with the disclosure of their positions, she wrote.

'Overly broad'

Freedom of speech

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