Jury trials were established several centuries ago and remain an institution in countries of English tradition, particularly in Canada and the United States. However, the juror is by definition a “peer” who is not educated in the field of law. This is why a judge also presides in any jury trial. At the end of a jury trial, it is the judge’s duty to explain to jurors the applicable legal principles and to guide them before they can deliberate and render a verdict.

In some cases, such as this one, trials may last several weeks and many legal principles must be explained by the judge. In these complex cases, it is essential that the jury receive clear and fair instructions in order to reach a fair verdict.

« In a jury trial the presiding judge must, except in rare cases where it would be needless to do so, review the substantial parts of the evidence and give the jury the theory of the defence, so that they may appreciate [its] value […] and how the law is to be applied to the facts.[1] »

Thandapanithesigar c. R., 2021 QCCA 171 

The facts

In the present case, the Quebec Court of Appeal was seized of an appeal by the accused against his conviction for second degree murder rendered by a jury following a trial of several weeks. During the trial, several witnesses were heard and the accused attempted to raise two defenses: intoxication and self-defense. After oral arguments, the judge instructed the jury on these two defenses by explaining the applicable legal concepts. However, the judge made no reference to the evidence the jurors heard and limited himself to explaining the law.

The judgment

The Court of Appeal was careful to reiterate in its judgment that it is important for the judge to summarize the evidence, including the content of the testimony, and link it to the essential elements of the dispute. This Common Law obligation belongs to the judge, not to the attorneys. In other words, even if the attorneys summarize the evidence in their oral arguments, the judge is nevertheless required to present his own summary of the facts and to refer to it when giving his instructions on the law.

The Quebec Court of Appeal ultimately dismissed the appeal because despite the judge’s failure to refer to the evidence, the Court’s opinion was that no material wrong or serious miscarriage of justice had been committed. The conviction for second degree murder was therefore upheld.

1 Azoulay c. R, [1952] 2 RCS 495, p. 497-499.

Published on 11/05/2021