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Cosgrove introduces JP Amendment Bill

31 May, 2006

Cosgrove introduces JP Amendment Bill

Associate Justice Minister Clayton Cosgrove says he is pleased to announce the Justices of the Peace Amendment Bill has been introduced to Parliament today.

"This Bill has been developed in consultation with the Royal Federation of New Zealand Justices' Associations, and it seeks to reform the Justices of the Peace Act 1957 in three key areas - training, discipline and retirement," said Mr Cosgrove.

Mr Cosgrove said the Bill includes a new requirement that all newly appointed Justices of the Peace (JPs) undertake training prior to taking the oath of office.

"The intent is to standardise the initial training of all new Justices so they can fully understand the responsibilities of their role and be better supported in carrying out their duties," Mr Cosgrove said. "A CD-ROM training kit for JPs launched earlier this year by the government also helps with this process."

The proposed legislation introduces a new disciplinary regime. The Governor-General, on Ministerial advice, will be empowered to remove or suspend a JP on any one of a number of serious grounds such as neglect of duty, misconduct and being convicted of an offence punishable by imprisonment. It also introduces disciplinary action other than removal or suspension to be taken against JPs in situations not serious enough to warrant such action.

"Specifying these grounds in legislation will provide consistent and transparent procedures in decision-making, as well as indicate the high standard of behaviour that is expected of JPs as respected members of the community," Mr Cosgrove said. "The current Act provides for the removal only of a JP by the Governor General, and lacks express grounds for removal."

Retired Justices have long expressed the desire to retain the use of the post nominal letters “JP” but can only do so if they are still actively undertaking Justice of the Peace duties.

"The legislation will address this concern by allowing a Justice who has served for 10 years or more to be authorised to use the designation “JP retired,” said Mr Cosgrove. "JPs embody the spirit of voluntarism through their selfless work. This Labour-led government is pleased to introduce these improvements that will greatly support the vital role that JPs have in New Zealand communities."

MEDIA BACKGROUNDER

Who are Justices of the Peace?

The Justices of the Peace (JP) system is an institution built on volunteering and of proud service to communities throughout New Zealand. There are over 10,000 JPs who come from a diverse range of backgrounds. Their duties include witnessing and certifying copies of documents, taking declarations, affidavits and affirmations for members of the public and issuing search warrants. A small number of JPs (about 400) also carry out judicial functions such as hearing summary offences and presiding over preliminary hearings.

Why is the Act being reviewed?

The current Act needs updating so that it better supports JPs, allows greater flexibility for dealing with discipline issues and better acknowledges their contribution and commitment. The Act must be clear and effective for JPs who exercise powers and authority under it, and so that the community has confidence in the office of JPs.

What is the purpose of the training provisions in the Bill?
The current expectation is that JPs will undertake initial training, however, there is no legislative means of enforcing such an undertaking. A statutory training requirement is considered necessary to better equip JPs for their vital community role and to signal the importance of the role they perform, before taking their oath of office.

What are the problems with the disciplinary provisions in the current Act?

The current Act provides only for the removal of a JP. This means there is insufficient flexibility to deal with situations deemed not serious enough to warrant removal and are more appropriately dealt with by alternative sanctions. There is also a lack of transparency for JPs in the Act about the disciplinary process and how decisions are made. At present, the Governor General may remove a person from the office of JP but there are no criteria for removal expressly set out in the Act.

Why are the new disciplinary provisions proposed in the Bill?

The Bill provides for the removal or suspension of a JP from office on any one of a number of serious grounds. For example, misconduct, being convicted of an offence punishable by imprisonment, or being adjudged bankrupt. The Bill also provides for lower level disciplinary action to be taken against a JP when the situation does not warrant removal or suspension. For example, written notice requiring a JP to apologise for inappropriate behaviour, or written notice to require a JP to undertake further training.

Specifying the disciplinary regime process in legislation, including an opportunity for the Justice to respond to any allegation, provides a consistent and transparent basis for decision-making. It also indicates the high standard of behaviour expected of JPs.

Why are retired JPs to be allowed to us the term JP (retired)?
The Bill proposes that JPs who have served the community but now wish to withdraw their services and retire be allowed to use the title of “JP (retired)”.

The title would be made available to a JP who had served in office for a period of no less than 10 years and who has upheld the good name of the Office, in recognition of their contribution and commitment.
There is no provision in the existing Act to enable the use of JP retired.

ENDS

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