N.B. courts face juror shortage

A Saint John judge says New Brunswick courts are having trouble finding enough jury members, particularly for lengthy trials.

Province may raise pay for jurors

A Saint John judge says New Brunswick courts are having trouble finding enough jury members, particularly for lengthy trials.

Court of Queen's Bench Justice Hugh McLellan said the low fee jurors receive could be contributing to the problem.

Many people simply can't afford to take time off work for jury duty, which sometimes pays less than minimum wage, he said.

During a recent pre-trial hearing in Saint John, McLellan asked that sheriffs send out 2,000 jury notices for an upcoming two-week trial. There is a publication ban on any details about the case during which McLellan made the statement.

McLellan's call for 2,000 jury notices stands in stark contrast to the normal 350 summonses issued to be able to put together a 12-person jury.

High-profile cases and lengthy trials usually require more jury notices, generally about 500.

It's becoming more difficult to secure enough jury members and hundreds of summonses aren't enough in many cases, the veteran judge said.

People are increasingly citing financial hardship as a reason to bow out of serving, he said.

Trend noticed

Senior court officials are noticing a similar trend, said Michael Bray, registrar of the Court of Appeal and Court of Queen's Bench for New Brunswick.

"Nowadays you may have more requesting exemptions for financial hardship than you might have five, 10 years ago," he said.

To avoid a potential shortage in jurors, about 3,000 summonses are being sent out for the upcoming Tingley family trial in Moncton, said Bray.

Members of the Tingley family are facing nearly 60 drug and weapons charges. The trial in that high-profile case is expected to take up to seven months.

Jurors currently get paid $20 for a half day of court, which is four hours or less. If they're in court any longer than that, they get $40. So if they put in an eight hour-day, that works out to $5 an hour.

The fee hasn't increased in nearly 20 years.

It would be "fiscally impossible" to compensate jurors for what they would lose in full salary, said Bray.

"It is a civic duty. It has to be done, no matter if you get paid or not. But there is some idea you would get some form of stipend."

Province may hike pay

Elaine Bell, a spokeswoman for the Department of Justice, said the provincial government is looking into a pay increase for jurors.

"We do recognize there are provinces that do pay more. We do recognize, too, that New Brunswickers may find the fees low," she said.

But the department can't do much to increase jury fees until the province's financial picture improves, she added.