Jury concerns aired
Northern lawyer doesn't see flaw in the system

NNSL (NOV 15/96) - Canada's justice minister says he will meet with federal officials to discuss a top judge's concern that the jury system may be a flawed.

But a prominent Yellowknife trial lawyer isn't convinced the system needs fixing.

Robert Gorin, president of the Criminal Defence Lawyers Association said jury trials he's been associated with are "almost always fair."

"I am not about to say I know better than the collective wisdom of 12 citizens. That would be ridiculous," said Gorin.

He explained that in a jury trial, 12 men and women are judges of fact and the sitting justice is the judge of the law.

And while Gorin -- who has practised law in the North for seven years -- hasn't agreed with every verdict juries have returned on his cases, he still doesn't take issue with the system.

"I believe in almost all cases that the judge is able to make the jury understand what the law is," said Gorin.

Allan Rock said last weekend he will meet with Justice Department officials to discuss concerns that miscarriages of justice may be happening because juries frequently don't understand judges' instructions.

The judge and former trial lawyer whose comments lead to Rock's statement said last Friday that the Criminal Code should be amended so researchers can question juries to determine whether they will correctly apply a judge's instructions.

But Justice John Sopinka of the Supreme Court of Canada reportedly said that, while juries may have trouble grasping the finer points of some legal instructions, appeal courts might be "too picky" about the standard of clarity needed.

Gorin said lawyers and judges, for the most part, can communicate well with juries, especially after years of practice.

"It's a challenge at first, but after a while you just adapt," he said.

Doctors don't use technical medical jargon with patients, he added, so why should judges and lawyers use technical legal jargon with a jury?