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Speech to Royal Federation of Justices Meeting

Hon. Paul Swain
17th February 2001 Speech Notes
Saturday 17th February

Speech to Royal Federation of Justices Annual Meeting ¡V The Quality Hotel Palmerston North


Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to thank the Federation for inviting me to your 73rd Annual Conference.

I would like to express the Government¡¦s appreciation for the work done by Justices for the community and the justice system on a voluntary basis. You provide a valuable service to the people of New Zealand.

Justices of the Peace, as lay people, play a major role in maintaining that important link between the justice system and the wider community. To have respected members of the community, in many cases, as the first point of contact, with the justice system gives it a human face that may in other circumstances be lacking.

I would also like to recognise the ministerial and judicial duties performed by Justices. The correct execution and witnessing of documents is a vital aspect of the law, and without the services of Justices of the Peace in District Courts throughout New Zealand, the administration of civil law would suffer immensely.

I will not go into the historical background of justices, which I note is succinctly covered in the first part of the Justices Manual, but what is obvious is the way that the role and functions of Justices have changed quite dramatically in the more than 600 years since Edward III created the Wardens, Conservators and Keepers of the Peace.

Such organic change is the nature of any longstanding office, and in recent discussions I have held with the Federation, it has been clear to me that there is a need to examine certain areas. I am keen to work with you to progress those issues.

There are four particular issues I propose to mention today:

„h Appointment processes
„h Representativeness of JPs
„h Training
„h Performance Management

Appointment Process

Since assuming portfolio responsibility for Justices of the Peace, I have recommended 273 people for appointment as Justices. What has struck me about this process is the lack of information I have available to me as Minister when considering applications.

This makes it difficult to distinguish between those applicants who have a genuine desire to serve the Community, and those interested in self-promotion and the cachet of the letters JP beside their name.

I am recommending that the best way to address this would be for all JP nominees to provide full curriculum vitae and supporting letters from at least two community organisations.

These changes would be relatively straightforward and could be achieved by amending the Guidelines for Appointment of JPs and related forms and circulating these that are provided to all MPs.

I would like you to report back to me a.s.a.p. on this proposal so that the Ministry of Justice can work on a new set of revised forms and guidelines. I would hope these could be circulated to MPs in March and also promoted in appropriate websites, including, I hope, the Federation¡¦s, which we are about to launch this morning.

The new process would need to be gradually phased in. The Ministry has suggested to me that the requirement to provide curricula vitae and letters of support could apply to all new nominations made from 1 April 2001, but that all existing applications under action at that date continue to be considered under the current regime. The latter should work their way through the appointment process by the end of the year, at which stage the new process could be reviewed.

Copies of the curriculum vitae and support letters would then be forwarded to Court Registrars to assist them when they interview nominees. As part of the new process I will continue to seek comment from local JP Associations about the need for additional JPs in an area.

Representativeness of JPs

Another issue that has stuck me is that we still have some way to go before JPs are seen to be fully representative of the society which they serve in terms of gender and ethnicity. While a good deal of progress has been made in this area in recent years, the latest figure I have indicate that of the 10,292 JPs, 72% are male, 65% are over the age of 60 years, and 88% are Pakeha.

In July last year, I issued revised guidelines to all MPs emphasising to Members that should bear in mind the need for equal representation from the community of JPs.

There is clear need to improve the representative mix of Justices and I am sure that the JP Federation will play its part in promoting the aims of achieving a more representative mix with the ranks of Justices.

Training

At a meeting with the Federation in December, I indicated to the Federation that I wish to see an improvement in the quality of training received by Justices of the Peace. As you well know, there are two types of training for JPs relating to:

„h Ministerial duties (all JPs), and
„h Court duties (some JPs only).

Training on Court duties is carried out through the Open Polytechnic. The future of Court training at this time depends on the results of discussions I shall be having with my fellow Ministers on the future of the Community Magistrate scheme.

I have been having ongoing meetings with my colleagues Hon Phil Goff and Hon Margaret Wilson about the future of Community Magistrates. As you will appreciate, it is a complex area.

We hope to make an announcement later this year but I can indicate that our current thinking is that we want to continue the current pilot in the Waikato and Bay of Plenty.

In the case of Ministerial duties, training usually takes place when JPs are first appointed and centres around new JPs reading the Justice of Peace manual given to them with their letter of appointment and attending an induction course organised by the local JP Association.

The Ministry of Justice is currently revising the wording of the appointment letter sent to new JPs stressing my clear expectation that they will ensure that they become (and remain) fully conversant with their duties and encouraging them to attend the induction courses organised by the local JP Association. I have also asked that the Ministry of Justice work with the federation and local JP Associations and with Courts officials to reinforce this message when new JPs are sworn in.

Wearing my hat as Minister of Information and Technology, I would like to think that we could at least have the JP Manual, and hopefully a range of other educational and training material, available on the Internet. I will certainly be discussing this matter with my officials.

The Ministry has also begun consultations with the Federation to review the content of the JP Manual to see if there are ways it can be ¡§fine tuned¡¨ to better meet the needs of new JPs. There is also the option of asking JPs (in conjunction with the Federation) to complete a return identifying their workload and training undertaken. This would help the Federation identify training requirements, and serve as a useful tool for reminding JPs of the importance of training while ensuring that JP records are kept up to date.

Performance Management

I also indicated to the Federation that I would like to apply more rigorous standards of behaviour/performance for JPs and would like to have better options (such as being able to suspend a JP) when considering complaints made against individual JPs.

You will appreciate that this is not a straightforward issue. JPs are semi-judicial officers. Careful consideration therefore would need to be given to the constitutional aspects of any proposal that would allow myself or any other Minister to exercise greater control over JPs behaviour. Such considerations would need to be reflected in the relevant legislation.

To this end I am consulting with my with officials to see how quickly we can start work on an amendment to the Justice of the Peace Act 1957. At this stage, and subject to finalisation of the Ministry¡¦s work programme priorities for 2001/2002, the policy development aspect of this project could be completed by later this year.

I am keen to see that all interested parties to make submissions on the form and nature of these changes. I would expect that the Federation to be a key participant in that process.

In the meantime, it is worth pointing out that the Government has recently promulgated a new set of judicial complaints procedures. Under these the Chief District Court Judge will continue to be responsible for the conduct of Justices of the Peace undertaking judicial responsibilities in the District Court.

I have raised four issues with you this morning and I am keen to make progress on them. I have, however indicated, to the Federation that I am keen to work in partnership with your organisation to achieve a better service.

I would be grateful if you could consider these matters with some urgency, and get back to me as soon as possible.

Finally, can I once again reiterate how much the government appreciates the job that Justices of the Peace do for their country. Without you we would be without a vital part of our justice system. I wish you good luck for your conference.


ENDS

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