Lawyers and Jury Duty

I was surprised to read in a recent piece in the Times Online that in the UK lawyers are eligible for jury duty. The author, a senior commercial solicitor, gives an interesting picture of how it feels to be a juror in a criminal trial, complaining that much of the explanation given to jurors about their duty is “pitched at a primary school audience.”

If you imagine a class of seven-year-olds being told about an operating theatre (“here are some big knives, and this is where the man called a ‘surgeon’ cuts the patient, then after that they sew him up” etc.), you will get the idea about the quality of the guidance that jurors receive. The result is that the actual information given to jurors is very thin indeed.

The UK Criminal Justice Act 2003 abolished the jury duty exemptions for barristers and solicitors — along with many others.

The author concludes that where there is a lawyer on a jury

you might in effect end up being tried by one lawyer . . . not, in any meaningful sense, a jury trial.

It seems that lawyers in some (or most?) U.S. states are eligible to sit on juries, but there the system of challenges likely results in most of them being rejected by one or other of the parties. In this respect there’s an interesting article [HeinOnline] by a U.S. lawyer describing her experience in being accepted to serve despite her profession.

It seems that “barristers and solicitors” are ineligible for jury duty throughout Canada — though I haven’t looked at the legislation in all provinces — as are, typically, a host of others connected with law or politics. Alberta, for instance, has a long list of ineligible persons:

4 The following persons are excluded from serving as jurors:
(a) members of the Privy Council, the Senate and the House of Commons of Canada;
(b) members of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta and the Executive Council;
(c) members of the council of a municipality or members of a board of trustees of a school district or school division;
(d) judges of the Provincial Court, justices of the Court of Appeal and Court of Queen’s Bench and justices of the peace, whether retired or not;
(e) barristers and solicitors, whether or not they are practising, and students‑at‑law;
(f) medical examiners under the Fatality Inquiries Act;
(g) officers and employees of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta;
(h) persons who
(i) have been convicted of a criminal offence for which a pardon has not been granted, or
(ii) are currently charged with a criminal offence;
(i) witnesses summoned to attend before the Legislative Assembly or a committee of the Legislative Assembly during the period that their attendance is required;
(j) persons confined in an institution;
(k) persons engaged in the administration of justice, including
(i) members and employees of any police service,
(ii) probation officers,
(iii) employees of the Department of Justice, and
(iv) employees of the Department of Justice of Canada or the Department of the Solicitor General of Canada.

I notice that law librarians are not ineligible and neither are professors of law, law clerks or paralegals.


  1. Thirty odd years ago, I dined with Federal District Court Judge who had been summonsed for jury duty in the Delaware or Virginia state courts. Judges were apparently not immune, but how the other jurors would react to having an experienced judge in the room is odd to imagine – the judge/juror would have to stress that there was only one real judge in the case and that any questions about the law should be directed there.

  2. Another interesting group now permitted to serve on juries in England are judges. Section 321 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which came into force on April 5, 2004, removed the entitlement to be excused from jury service, as of right for a number of people. Judges are amongst the categories of people who are no longer entitled to be excused from jury service, as of right.

  3. I like this one

    4 The following persons are excluded from serving as jurors:

    (j) persons confined in an institution;

    So, being the overly literal pedant (sometimes), and in my eternal search for the perfect reductio I went to the Alberta legislation to see if it defined “confined” and “institution”, at least in the definitions section.

    No. Nope. Nada. Nyet. Nicht. Lo.

    Then checked the Alta Interpetation Act.

    No. Nope. Nada. Nyet. Nicht. Lo.

    So then I did a word search on the Alberta statues and regs database in CanLII for usages of “institution” or “confined”.

    Started with “confined” on the assumption that if I’m not “confined” then it doesn’t matter that I’m “not confined” in something that is or isn’t a qualifying “institution”.

    There were 88 hits on “confined”. Here.

    On the premise that I should assume that the reg can’t permit something not permitted by the statute, I reran the search just on the statute database: 37 hits

    Searching for “institution” gave me 162 hits just in the statutes database alone. That’s too many.

    So the next move was to search for flavours of confined within some proximity of institution and, if need be, somehow connection to same term meaning definition. Yes, I normally would have done that to start, but as I’m having fun … (ok. don’t go there.)

    Institution /20 confined produced 5 hits –

    1.Alberta Income Tax Act, R.S.A. 2000, c. A-26
    2.Corrections Act, R.S.A. 2000, c. C-29
    3.Jury Act, R.S.A. 2000, c. J-3
    4.Vital Statistics Act, R.S.A. 2000, c. V-4
    5.Workers’ Compensation Act, R.S.A. 2000, c. W-15

    Institution /100 confined produces 7 hits. The additions are:

    6.Local Authorities Election Act, R.S.A. 2000, c. L-21
    7.Dependent Adults Act, R.S.A. 2000, c. D-11, [Repealed or spent]

    I think we can conclude that we’ve hit on whatever is likely to be relevant, if at all.
    I concluded (inferred inductively, not deduced, based on my relevant experience and other factors that need not be enumerated that you’ll have to accept are relevant) by applying robust and pragmatic, ordinanry common sense, not abstract metaphysical theory, that the better place to start was the Corrections Act. I’m sure the fact that it was the first listed result, in a relevance-based search, had something to do with that conclusion.

    Anyway, confined isn’t defined. However, it is used in conjunction with “detained” – “detained or confined” in the definition of “inmate” – “”inmate” means a person lawfully detained or confined in a correctional institution or otherwise held in lawful custody but does not include …” (the exceptions aren’t relevant to the present inquiry)

    Institution isn’t defined, either, but “correctional institution” is.

    I couldn’t resist going to the Local Authorities Election Act.

    (2) An elector who on election day
    (a) is confined to a hospital, auxiliary hospital or nursing home in the local jurisdiction, or
    (b) is a resident in the local jurisdiction in a seniors’ accommodation facility,
    that is established as an institutional voting station for the election is eligible to vote at that institutional voting station.

    And, no, neither of “confined” or “institution” are defined.

    Anwyay, some of us went to school at places whose names included variations “institute”. So, if I have a detention at such an “institute”, am I “confined at an institution”?

    See what one can learn, from going to law school, to be taught to “think like a lawyer”?