N.B. attorney general proposes litigants pay jury costs in some cases
Lawyer Brian Mason argues making people pay for jury presents barrier to justice for those of modest means
People involved in certain civil lawsuits in New Brunswick could be ordered to pay the jury costs in trials under changes proposed by Attorney General Serge Rousselle.
Under the proposed change, legal actions for libel, slander, malicious arrest, malicious prosecution or false imprisonment could see the parties involved ordered by a judge to wholly or partially pay for the costs of the jury.
A lawyer involved in a malicious prosecution case that is before the courts calls the proposed change "disastrous for plaintiffs."
"I really see that as an access-to-justice issue that impacts people that are of limited or modest means," said Barry Mason, a Halifax-based lawyer.
Mason is representing former Saint John police officer Chris Messer in his malicious prosecution lawsuit against the attorney general and the City of Miramichi.
Jury costs are typically paid for by the government, and Mason knows of no other jurisdiction where the parties in a civil suit are made to pay for them.
"I was shocked by it because I haven't seen this before," he said.
In New Brunswick, jurors are paid $20 for a half-day's attendance of four hours or less, and $40 for a full day.
If a trial lasts 10 days or longer, the rates double to $40 and $80, respectively, starting on Day 10 of the trial. Jurors may also receive compensation for meals and travel.
Mason said those amounts may present a financial obstacle for some people seeking justice.
The lawyer said there is a "slippery slope here" that people need to realize.
"If the parties have to start paying for jurors, then what's next? The judge? The courthouse? The sheriffs that are in the courtroom?" he said.
If the parties have to start paying for jurors, then what's next? The judge?- Barry Mason, lawyer
"We're taking away people's right to have access to the court system."
Mason said while such costs may not be an issue for wealthier litigants, they could prevent people of more modest means from taking their cases to court.
"It's not a free gig," he said.
"By continuing to throw more and more costs, particularly on people of limited or modest means, you're denying them access to justice. They simply can't afford to get there."
Mason notes that Supreme Court of Canada Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin has often stated publicly that access to justice is a problem in Canada.
"We don't want a system where it's only wealthy defendants and wealthy parties that can seek justice and obtain justice at the end of the day," said Mason.
The deadline for public input on the draft regulation outlining the proposed changes is April 12.