Role of JPs

28/11/2015 15:06

Justices of Peace (JPs) are selected people, who play an important part in the legal system. You may have asked a JP to certify one of your documents at one point or another. However, sometimes accessing their services can be challenging.

There may be instances when the JPs are not available, do not have the time to serve you and you are turned away. This can be disappointing and frustrating especially if you have travelled quite a distance to reach to the JP assigned to your community.

The crucial point is that the public has certain level of expectation from the JPs over their services. A JP is expected to be a person who is modest and helpful to all and sundry who seek his or her services.  The Chief Justice, Mr. Justice Anthony Gates has rightly said at one of the swearing-in ceremonies for newly appointed JPs that they needed to keep a reputation for being selfless, accommodating, ready to help, obliging and willing to assist.

Over the years, the Council has received concerns and complaints from consumers regarding the services provided by some JPs who were found not be taking their duties seriously. The nature of complaints are: refusing to provide services to the public; charging fee for the service, unprofessional behaviour/attitude and lack of commitment shown by certain JPs.

Case Study

Last year, Sam along with his friend approached a JP at his office seeking his assistance in witnessing a document. Sam approached the JP who stated that he (JP) had been citing documents since that morning and was not there for such things only as he had to earn some money. The JP questioned Sam as to why he could not seek the services of another JP. This particular JP went on to say that he will receive payments for his service. Sam, however, was able to have his document certified elsewhere but lodged a complaint with the Council.

Upon receiving the complaint, the Council launched an investigation into the matter. Two of the Council staff visited the JP’s office incognito (undercover), one of them requesting a document to be certified.

The JP asked them: “Who told you, I was here. Can you find someone else to certify your documents – is there no one else you can go to?”

The JP reeked strongly of alcohol and there were empty beer bottles visible on the side of his table inside his office; he also uttered vulgar words.

In another case, Sonam had sought the services of a JP for certification of a document. Sonam arrived at the JP’s office at 9 am and explained the purpose of her visit. The JP replied,” Here comes another one, these people don’t even let me read newspaper”. The Council wrote to the two JPs reminding them of their role as public office holders and also notified the Ministry of Justice.

A key consumer concern was that some unscrupulous JPs have been charging fees for their services. This is unacceptable as JPs are governed by a Code of Conduct, which is found in the Handbook for Justices of the Peace compiled by the Ministry of Justice.

The appointment of any JP is made subject to the Code of Conduct, which establishes acceptable standards of conduct for JPs.

The Code of Conduct clarifies the standards of behaviour that are expected from the JPs, such as:

  • Access to services — a JP must not ‘unreasonably refuse’ to provide JP services and must treat all persons seeking JP services with courtesy, dignity and respect. A JP must also deal with requests for JP services in a timely manner
  • A JP must not benefit, in cash or kind, for any service as a Justice of the Peace
  • A JP must not offer legal advice in his or her capacity as a JP
  • A JP must remain independent and impartial when providing JP services
  • Code of Integrity —JPs must carry out their duties in a proper manner and administer the law in so far as they are authorised and called upon to do so, without fear or favour, affection or ill-will, in accordance with their Judicial Oath and in the most conscientious manner possible
  • A JP must ensure that their availability as a Justice of Peace is appropriately publicized

The members of the public are advised that they can lodge a complaint against a JP if dissatisfied with their services. A JP must have a Complaints Form readily available should a member of public require one. The JPs are required to respond to a complaint without delay.

Meanwhile, the members of public also have certain responsibilities when visiting a JP -  you need to take all the necessary documents with valid photo identification. You cannot sign any document on behalf of anyone else. Documents that need to be witnessed by a JP have to be signed in front of the JP.

Do not sign the documents before you visit a JP.