A B.C. Supreme Court judge has refused to ask members of a jury of their COVID-19 vaccination status.
“I do not think the participation of unvaccinated jurors risks public confidence in the administration of justice,” Justice Geoffrey Gomery said in an Aug. 8 Powell River case ruling.
He had been asked by a Crown prosecutor in a criminal trial to make the request, assuring jurors they were not obliged to answer. Further, he was asked to stand aside prospective jurors who would not confirm full vaccinated.
He said the request delved into “a private and personal sphere.”
“Panellists might well have reasons to wish not to discuss their vaccination status in public in the intimidating environment of a courtroom,” Gomery said. “Some might be intimidated by the question itself.
Further, he said, offering assurance jurors need not reply would mitigate, but not eliminate, the pressure.
“Participants in the justice system are sometimes required to disclose personal and private information in open court – but the question is one that should only be required if circumstances demand it.”
The defence did not agree with the idea.
Gomery said criminal jury trials have been taking place under the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic since the fall of 2020.
“Until quite recently, it could be assumed that most jurors were unvaccinated,” he said. “While the virus appears to have become more contagious, weekly provincial case counts at points over the past year have been considerably higher than they are at present.”
The judge said protective measures including distancing, masking, health protocols and the installation of Plexiglas dividers in courtrooms have been effective in securing the health of jurors and other participants in the criminal trials that have been taking place.
“I am unaware of a COVID-19 outbreak that has been traced to the conduct of a criminal or civil trial in this court,” Gomery said.