The little known world of Justices of the Peace

Contrary to popular belief, not every person willing can become a ‘Justice of the Peace,’ and the process is stringent, David Grove, President of the Auckland JPs Association has said.

He said that candidates, who are successful in the selection process (including written tests and training programmes), would be required to satisfy a number of other criteria before being appointed as JPs.

“JPs are required to serve all New Zealanders and not a particular community. However, they may choose to provide the service ‘at their time.’ A JP would typically witness signatures, certify documents, take declarations, affidavits or affirmations and on occasions even act for the Coroner,” Mr Grove said.

Many JPs provide their services from their homes, citizens advisory bureaux, shopping malls and public libraries.

Known as ‘ministerial duties,’ these range from simple to very complex, with some of them impacting significantly on the people to whom they are directed.

“Knowledge, understanding of the English language, care, accuracy, good judgement and ability to maintain confidentiality are required in carrying out these duties. The Governor General appoints JPs on the advice of the Justice Minister (or a delegated Associate Minister) and every JP has duties and obligations,” Mr Grove said.

The robust selection process begins with a nomination filed by a Member of Parliament. The Justice Minister or the Associate Justice Minister must first complete a comprehensive study of each application and assess the need for a JP in the area.

Old convictions of a minor nature may not automatically preclude a nominee from being appointed, but a serious criminal conviction will generally disqualify.

Some exceptions

According to Mr Grove, while all New Zealanders, conforming to the set standards and completing the selection process successfully may be considered for appointment as JPs, a number of persons cannot be appointed to the role.

They include practising lawyers, practising family doctors, current members of Parliament and a minister or lay minister of any religion.

Employees of the New Zealand Police, Corrections Department, Justice Ministry and their spouses are also ineligible to become JPs.

No official honour

Mr Grove said that the role of a JP is public service and not an official honour conferred by the government or government agencies.

“A JP is a volunteer public functionary who makes his or her JP services openly available to the community at large. JP services are accessible to the public through public listings such as the Yellow Pages where the names and contact details of individual JPs are published. Because the services of JPs (and accessing those services) should be cost-free to the public where possible, JP listings provide landline phone access rather than mobile phone access to a JP,” he said.

The history

The JP system dates back to 1195 when King Richard I commissioned some knights to preserve the ‘Kings Peace,’ but the system of ‘Justices of the Peace’ was established only during the reign of King Edward II Plantagenet in 1361.

The early days saw JPs (mostly from the gentry) conducting arraignments in all criminal cases and tried misdemeanours and infractions of local ordinances and bylaws. But gradually, evolution of the judiciary has seen changes to the role of JPs.

Many countries have an established JP system including India, Pakistan and Russia, but little is known or spoken about them. In some countries and in some cases, JPs can issue arrest warrants and attend to the duties of a Magistrate but such a privilege is not accorded to all.

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Indian Newslink interviewed David Grove and discussed a number of aspects of JPs and their role with him, Roger Brookes and Jim Blackman, respectively Registrar and Member of the Auckland JPs Association Council. Other duties of JPs will appear in our next issue.

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