Should one of Canada's most notorious serial killers be granted a new trial because of an alleged error by the judge?

The Supreme Court of Canada will consider that question Thursday when lawyers for Robert Pickton argue that his convictions for killing six Vancouver prostitutes should be overturned.

Pickton's lawyers say B.C. Supreme Court Justice James Williams' jury instruction undermined the defence at his 2007 trial, which ended with six convictions for second-degree murder. Pickton, a Vancouver-area pig farmer, was sentenced to life with no parole eligibility for 25 years -- the maximum penalty.

The appeal is focused on a narrow point of law, but one that is often the source of successful appeals: whether a trial judge erred in instructing the jury.

It turns on a question that jurors posed to Williams on the sixth day of their deliberations: could they convict Pickton if he was only an accomplice in the killings?

Williams had crafted his initial charge to the jury after consulting with the prosecution and defence, and told the jury it had to render a guilty verdict if it found Pickton was the actual killer. After their question, Williams revised his instructions to the jurors, telling them they could still convict if they found Pickton was the killer or an "active participant" in the killings.

Pickton's lawyers say that confused the jury.