Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner, Dr. Ann Cavoukian, ordered Crown attorneys to cease collecting any personal information of potential jurors, beyond that which is necessary under the Juries Act and Criminal Code. Proposing a fundamental shift in the way that prospective jurors are screened, the Commissioner also called on the Ministry of the Attorney General (MAG) to implement a single, centralized juror screening process through the existing Provincial Jury Centre, minimizing the need for numerous background checks to be conducted across multiple offices. The new process addresses the lack of consistency in the “patchwork of practices” presently employed by Crown attorney offices and the police.
The Commissioner’s office (IPC) conducted a major investigation into whether the privacy rights of prospective jurors were breached when the police, on behalf of Crown attorneys, conducted background checks through a variety of means, ranging from accessing confidential databases, to informally gathering anecdotal information. Key findings include:
- One third, or 18 of the 55 Crown attorney offices in Ontario had received background information about prospective jurors since March 31, 2006 – this practice extended well beyond the four locales previously identified in the media;
- All 18 Crown attorney offices had gathered personal information that exceeded the criminal conviction eligibility criteria set out in the Juries Act and Criminal Code – in doing so, they had also failed to comply with applicable privacy legislation; and
- There were varying practices regarding the disclosure of this information by Crown attorney offices to defence counsel.
“I want to be clear that we are not talking about a sweeping epidemic – in a relatively small number of cases, the violation of jurors’ privacy was a routine practice,” said Commissioner Cavoukian. “However, while these practices varied in terms of their invasiveness, the fact remains that 18 Crown attorney offices across the province gathered personal information that exceeded the criminal conviction eligibility criteria set out in the Juries Act and Criminal Code. What I find regrettable is that this invasive practice should have been put to a stop 16 years ago.”
Based on the findings of the investigation, the Commissioner is ordering Crown attorneys to cease collecting any personal information of potential jurors beyond that which is permitted under the Juries Act and the Criminal Code, relevant to criminal conviction eligibility.
Further, the Commissioner is recommending a fundamental shift in the way that prospective jurors are screened in Ontario. Proposing a complete overhaul of the existing system, the Commissioner has recommended that MAG, through its Provincial Jury Centre (PJC), be the only central body to screen jurors who are ineligible for jury duty, based on criminal conviction. As the single entity already in receipt of the names and personal information of all prospective jurors, the PJC is the obvious candidate to perform this role. Operating from a single location in London, Ontario, the PJC is also in an ideal position to implement strict privacy and security measures that can be strongly enforced, thereby providing a consistently high degree of protection for personal information.
In total, the Commissioner made 22 recommendations directed primarily at Ministry of the Attorney General (MAG), including:
- The Provincial Jury Centre of MAG should be the only central body to screen out jurors who are ineligible for jury duty, based on criminal conviction;
- Crown attorneys should cease the practice of requesting the police to provide criminal conviction information relating to potential jurors, barring exceptional and compelling circumstances;
- Where Crown attorneys do obtain criminal conviction information relating to prospective jurors, they should share this information with defence counsel, in accordance with MAG policy;
- MAG should re-write and re-design the jury service qualification questionnaire in order to make it more clear, transparent and user-friendly for all prospective jurors;
- MAG should develop and implement a policy for Crown attorneys on the appropriate retention and disposal of jury panel lists.
Read the full report and order here (pdf).