Celebrating 30 Years of CRIMJI
CLEBC Staff | January 3, 2017
CLEBC is proud to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Canadian Criminal Jury Instructions (“CRIMJI”)! We had the opportunity to learn more about CRIMJI from one of its original authors, Professor Gerry A. Ferguson.
CRIMJI was inspired by the late Mr. Justice John C. Bouck, a reform-minded judge who in 1984 approached Professor Ferguson with a vision to create a set of model criminal jury instructions.
Mr. Justice Bouck believed that model instructions would assist in making courts more effective and efficient in two ways. First, model instructions would help take pressure off trial judges who were expected, often overnight, to prepare jury instructions that explained all the relevant law and trial evidence presented in a case. Secondly, Mr. Justice Bouck believed that model instructions could assist trial judges in making fewer jury instruction errors, which would mean fewer appeals, reversals of judgments, and costly orders of new trials.
From 1984 to 1987, Mr. Justice Bouck and Professor Ferguson worked together to create a comprehensive book of criminal jury instructions that judges could count on to be legally accurate, reliable, and up to date. The book allows judges to pick and choose relevant standard instructions, and affords them more time to focus on inserting case-specific evidence into the chosen instructions.
One challenge faced by the duo when drafting the book was balancing the two audiences of jury instructions: the court of appeal on one hand, which demanded that instructions be as legally accurate and detailed as possible, and lay jurors on the other hand. To ensure that the instructions were in plain language comprehensible to lay jurors, Professor Ferguson worked with psycholinguists and incorporated research on effective communication into the creation of CRIMJI.
In 1987, the first edition of CRIMJI was made available and was one of the first books that CLEBC ever published, creating a new product model for CLEBC which traditionally provided only courses as education resources for lawyers.
Over the past 30 years, CRIMJI has allowed criminal judges from criminal law backgrounds to put together more organized and accessible sets of jury instructions with confidence. For criminal judges not from criminal law backgrounds, CRIMJI has been an even more invaluable resource. "They’ve used expressions like ‘CRIMJI saved my skin’," said Professor Ferguson. "Over the years, we’ve received very complimentary comments about the book from judges."
Due to its heavily annotated nature, CRIMJI became not only a resource for judges but also for lawyers on matters of evidence, offences, and defences. "Really, in addition to instructions, CRIMJI is also a set of legal memoranda. Originally, lawyers didn’t know it would be helpful, but over time I started to run into prosecutors and defence lawyers who use CRIMJI to help them prepare for trial," said Professor Ferguson.
A change that Professor Ferguson has seen in the last three decades is that trials have become longer and more complex, requiring judges to remind juries of more evidence and requiring trial instructions to become lengthier. This change has meant that organization of trial notes and instructions has become increasingly difficulty for judges. In response to these needs, CRIMJI not only includes tips on how to organize instructions, but also includes a collection of user notes which are warnings, cautions, and alternatives for judges to consider when preparing their instructions.
When asked about the future of CRIMJI, Professor Ferguson looked back to when CRIMJI was first a physical set of two binders. As technology evolved, CRIMJI was made available on floppy disk, then CD-ROM, and today as a fully-searchable online-access publication. "The big change is how CRIMJI's content is being delivered to its users and how judges are accessing CRIMJI," he remarked. In the future, Professor Ferguson hopes to see a day in which CRIMJI will include a document builder function that would allow judges to choose instructions and automatically receive a document with only the selected ones in a convenient format.
For the next five to 10 years, Professor Ferguson doesn’t predict any major shifts in criminal jury trials and sees CRIMJI as continuing to be a valuable and needed resource, provided the book remains relevant. This is why Professor Ferguson and contributors to the book update CRIMJI each year to reflect the latest legal developments.
CLEBC would like to extend our deepest thanks to Professor Ferguson for creating and uninterruptedly sustaining CRIMJI for over 30 years. We would also like to recognize the years-long contributions of the late Mr. Justice John Bouck, Mr. Justice Michael Dambrot, Madam Justice Elizabeth Bennett, and all the current and past members of CRIMJI's Editorial Board.