Thursday, November 05, 2009

Nova Scotia to probe juror vetting

From today's National Post:

Nova Scotia launches probe into jury vetting

Shannon Kari, National Post

Published: Thursday, November 05, 2009

The Public Prosecution Service in Nova Scotia is conducting an internal review into whether or not its Crown attorneys have been conducting improper background checks of potential jurors.

The review was prompted by a request for information from the Nova Scotia Criminal Lawyers' Association following a National Post story last month that suggested jury vetting was taking place in the province.

A report issued about the scope of the practice in Ontario by the provincial Privacy Commissioner also cited a senior Crown official in Nova Scotia who said it was common for jury lists to be given to police to do background checks. The information was "generally not shared with the defence," the Nova Scotia official told the Ontario agency. The Public Prosecution Service in Nova Scotia initially suggested the Ontario report was inaccurate. But in a written response to the lawyers' association, the director of public prosecutions in Nova Scotia announced that he had initiated an internal review.

"I anticipate that our review will ultimately result in a policy statement or practice advice being prepared which will be distributed to our Crown attorneys. A copy of that advice piece will be provided to you," wrote Martin Herschorn in the letter dated Oct. 20.

Mr. Herschorn also imposed an interim directive. It states that if a background check is requested, it should only be to see if an individual has been previously sentenced to more than two years in prison, which would make the person ineligible to serve as a juror in Nova Scotia.

A spokeswoman for the prosecution service confirmed yesterday that it is asking its 20 Crown offices whether confidential databases were used to probe potential jurors and if the data was disclosed to the defence. "We hope to have a policy in place by the end of the calendar year," Chris Hansen said.

While he welcomes the review, the president of the Criminal Lawyers' Association said he wants to know more about what happened previously. "Our membership certainly has many more questions," Josh Arnold said. "So far, all the talk has been on a go forward basis."

Dulcie McCallum, the Nova Scotia Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy review officer, said yesterday that she will wait for the internal review to be completed before deciding whether to launch her own investigation.

The Ontario Privacy Commissioner's report revealed that one in three Crown offices in the province engaged in improper jury vetting in just the past three years.

The Ontario Court of Appeal is hearing its first case on this issue this fall, in which three defendants convicted of murder are seeking a new trial. The Ontario government announced on Oct. 27 that it is amending the Juries Act so that any checks for eligibility will be done by an independent agency and the information will be kept confidential. Mr. Arnold urged the Nova Scotia government to consider similar changes to its Juries Act.

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