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Justices Of The Peace Should Have Major Role

PRESS RELEASE: 17.03.04

JUSTICES OF THE PEACE SHOULD HAVE MAJOR ROLE IN ANY RESTRUCTURED COURT SYSTEM

Justices of the Peace provide the most logical and cost-effective means of operating the new community courts proposed by the New Zealand Law Commission, according to the president of the Royal Federation of N.Z. Justices' Associations, Mrs Robyn Paterson.

A community magistrate herself, Mrs Paterson said judicial JPs were now well trained and suited for such a challenging role and could perform the task at a fraction of the cost of professional judicial officers envisioned in the law commission report.

She pointed out that 400 judicial JPs are already serving successfully in our district courts, and that most New Zealanders were probably unaware that in Britain 95 per cent of all criminal cases are heard by justices of the peace.

"If we accept that every accused person has the right to be judged by his or her peers, then lay people have an important contribution to make to the administration of justice. Justices of the peace help to bridge the gap between the layman and the lawyer, and ensure that the law does not lose touch with the people it is designed to serve," she said.

The RFNZJA already has made lengthy and detailed submissions to the law commission urging that jurisdiction of justices of the peace in the court system be extended. The Federation is the governing body of the 29 regional Justice of the Peace associations, whose members account for most of the 8,500 JPs in New Zealand.

Further submissions on behalf of JP involvement will be made at later hearings, but meanwhile Mrs Paterson urges parliamentarians to consider the advice of one of Britain's most eminent jurists, Lord Hailsham, who said: "My advice to the English people after 40 years of experience of the law is: Do not try to get rid of your old style Justice of the Peace. If you do you will get rid of one of the most valuable and stabilizing of your social institutionsŠ."

"That is sound advice, and it would save the New Zealand taxpayer millions of dollars," she said. "We believe that many of the delays in the court system can be better dealt with through an enhancement of the existing jurisdiction of judicial JPs. All that is needed is some modest additional funding for further training resources."

ENDS

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