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Barker Speech to Central Region Regional JPs

Rick Barker: Speech to Central Region Regional Justices of the Peace Seminar, Little Theatre, Stafford Street - Feilding, Saturday 19 July

Speech to Central Region Regional Justices of the Peace Seminar, Little Theatre, Stafford Street - Feilding, Saturday 19 July

Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen and thank you for the opportunity of attending your regional seminar today to discuss proposed changes to the administration of JPs.

This government recognises the important contribution that JPs make to their local communities and the fact they are often the first port of call for people seeking assistance on matters across a broad spectrum.

It is for that reason that the Government is committed to enhancing the standing of the office of JPs, particularly in relation to their ministerial functions.

We have decided to move forward with reforms of the Justice of the Peace Act and The Royal Federation of Justices of the Peace Associations has already made a valuable contribution to the policy process underpinning that.

We are also continuing to make improvements to the appointments processes for JPs because we need to ensure that JPs are genuinely representative of their communities and that quality JPs are appointed.

I would also like to see a good gender and age balance in JP nominations from a full range of ethnic communities.

My predecessor, the Hon Paul Swain issued new guidelines on JP nomination and appointment policies.

The guidelines placed increased emphasis on ensuring an adequate distribution of JPs across electorates and on improving the representative mix of JPs within an electorate. The guidelines also ensured that there were letters of support from community groups for JP nominees.

The proposed reforms of the Justices of the Peace Act focus on the important role that JPs perform in their ministerial responsibilities. There are two main areas of change, primarily:

· New training requirements and · A new disciplinary and removals regime.

It is proposed that all newly appointed JPs would undertake training before taking their oath. This would ensure that they fully understood the significance and responsibilities associated with their new role when they take their oath of office.

The Government supports the need for initial training and thinks this should be a requirement in law.

Ongoing training is important but will not be mandatory. The Royal Federation would continue to be an important source of ongoing education for JPs.

All JPs would be able to access training on a voluntary basis if they have identified gaps in knowledge that need addressing.

The new Justice of the Peace Act would also contain clear grounds 1for the removal of members.

The current Act only provides that the Governor General may remove a JP from Office but gives no grounds. This maintains a lack of clarity for JPs and the public about what is expected.

The government has agreed that the grounds for removal should be: · An inability to perform the functions of the office; · Neglect of duty; · Behaviour or conduct that is inappropriate or undesirable; · Conviction of a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment; · Bankruptcy.

These grounds recognise the high standard of behaviour that is expected of JPs as community role models.

In addition, the Governor-General and the Secretary for Justice would be able to impose sanctions short of removal.

This would ensure that behavioural issues that do not warrant removal but still need some sort of remedial action are dealt with appropriately.

As with the new grounds for removal, the focus is on ensuring the integrity of the office of Justice of the Peace and maintaining public confidence.

The new legislation would provide the Governor General or the Secretary for Justice with the ability to:

· Require a JP to apologise for his or her conduct; · Issue the JP with an official rebuke; · Require the JP to undertake further training in an area relevant to his or her duties; · Require a JP to undertake appropriate counselling; · Suspend a JP from office for a period of not exceeding 90 days.

The legislation would require that the disciplinary regime would observe the principles of natural justice.

JPs who have served the community but wish to withdraw their services and retire would be allowed to use the title "JP (retired)."

This title would be available to JPs who have served in office for at least 10 years.

This proposed change to the Act recognises the significance of the contribution made by retired JPs.

The Government has not yet made any decisions about the roles of Judicial JPs or Community Magistrates, but that may change after the Law Commission's review of the structure of the courts is finalised in November. The future of JPs in the District Court needs to be considered in the light of broader issues relating to the structure of the Courts.

The policy development process for the Review of the Justices of the Peace Act is now largely complete. The Parliamentary Counsel Office has been instructed to draft a bill.

When the Bill is introduced into Parliament is dependent on competing priorities. As you are all no doubt aware, parliamentary time is a scarce resource relative to the number of Bills.

However, the fact that we have achieved Government decisions and the Bill is in preparation represents significant progress.

After the Bill is introduced and reaches select committee stage, I hope you will consider making submissions.

I have asked my officials to keep you in touch with progress and we will be happy to consult you on the draft Bill.

Thank you once again for inviting me here today to address your seminar and I'm happy to take any questions you have on the points I've just discussed.

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