In a civil trial in British Columbia, a party to an action has the right to elect whether the party wants the case to be heard before a jury or by judge alone. If a party chooses to proceed by way of a jury trial, they must serve what is called a notice requiring jury trial to the opposing party. Rule 12-6 (3) of the Supreme Court Civil Rules (the “Rules”) states that the jury notice must be filed and served on all parties of record within 21 days after service of the notice of trial and at least 30 days before trial.
A jury trial will not be possible in certain civil proceedings which are set out in Rule 12-6 (2) of the Rules. Such circumstances include but are not limited to matters which involve the redemption or foreclosure of a mortgage, the specific performance of a contract or the custody or guardianship of an infant or the care of an infant’s estate.
Your lawyer will consider whether it is in your best interest to proceed by way of a jury or judge-alone trial. Jury trials will often involve more preparation for both parties. They also require extra trial days than in a judge-alone trial as more time is needed for jury selection, the judge’s charge to the jury (judge’s instructions to the jury concerning the law that applies to the facts of the case) and jury deliberation. Further, the risk for both parties will be increased as the damages awarded in a jury trial may be significantly greater than in a judge-alone trial but may also be significantly less than in a judge-alone trial. You may also be left wondering why the jury awarded a certain amount for damages since unlike in a judge-alone trial where the judge will provide his or her reasons for judgment, juries do not provide reasons for judgment.
What happens if you are served with a jury notice but want a judge-alone trial? Rule 12-6(5) of the Rules allows a party to bring an application for an order that the trial or part of the trial be heard without a jury on the following grounds:
a) the issues require prolonged examination of documents or accounts or a scientific or local investigation that cannot be made conveniently with a jury,
b) the issues are of an intricate or complex character, or
c) the extra time and cost involved in requiring that the trial be heard by the court with a jury would be disproportionate to the amount involved in the action.
In considering whether to proceed by way of a jury or judge-alone trial, your lawyer will discuss with you the risks and benefits of each mode of trial.