Regina v Sawyer: 2001

(Canada) the court considered the reasons underlying the need for secrecy of a jury’s deliberations: ‘The first reason supporting the need for secrecy is that confidentiality promotes candour and the kind of full and frank debate that is essential to this type of collegial decision making. While searching for unanimity, jurors should be free to explore out loud all avenues of reasoning without fear of exposure to public ridicule, contempt or hatred. This rationale is of vital importance to the potential acquittal of an unpopular accused, or one charged with a particularly repulsive crime. In my view, this rationale is sound, and does not require empirical confirmation. The Court of Appeal also placed considerable weight on the second rationale for the secrecy rule: the need to ensure finality of the verdict. Describing the verdict as the product of a dynamic process, the court emphasized the need to protect the solemnity of the verdict, as the product of the unanimous consensus which, when formally announced, carries the finality and authority of a legal pronouncement. That rationale is more abstract, and inevitably invites the question of why the finality of the verdict should prevail over its integrity in cases where that integrity is seriously put in issue. In a legal environment such as ours, which provides for generous review of judicial decisions on appeal, and which does not perceive the voicing of dissenting opinions on appeal as a threat to the authority of the law, I do not consider that finality, standing alone, is a convincing rationale for requiring secrecy. The respondent, as well as the interveners supporting its position and, in particular, the Attorney General of Quebec, place great emphasis on the third main rationale for the jury secrecy rule – the need to protect jurors from harassment, censure and reprisals. Our system of jury selection is sensitive to the privacy interests of prospective jurors (see R v Williams [1998] 1 SCR 1128), and the proper functioning of the jury system, a constitutionally protected right in serious criminal charges, depends upon the willingness of jurors to discharge their functions honestly and honourably. This in turn is dependent, at the very minimum, on a system that ensures the safety of jurors, their sense of security, as well as their privacy. I am fully satisfied that a considerable measure of secrecy surrounding the deliberations of the jury is essential to the proper functioning of that important institution and that the preceding rationales serve as a useful guide to the boundaries between the competing demands of secrecy and reviewability.’
Arbour J
[2001] 2 SCR 344
England and Wales
Cited by:

  • Cited – Regina v Connor and another; Regina v Mirza HL 22-Jan-2004
    The defendants sought an enquiry as to events in the jury rooms on their trials. They said that the secrecy of a jury’s deliberations did not fit the human right to a fair trial. In one case, it was said that jurors believed that the defendant’s use . .
    [2004] UKHL 2, Times 23-Jan-04, [2004] 2 WLR 201, [2004] 1 AC 1118, [2004] HRLR 11, 16 BHRC 279, [2004] 2 Cr App R 8, [2004] 1 All ER 925

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Updated: 09 December 2020; Ref: scu.192267