Unpaid JPs - life savers who support low cost legal services
25 February 2019
Unpaid JPs - ‘life savers’ who support low cost legal services
JPs deserve more recognition than they are given, according to a Canterbury lawyer.
‘JPs are a life saver,’ says Kiwilaw’s director, lawyer Cheryl Simes. ‘They are in every community, usually available after hours as well as during business hours, and they don’t charge.’
‘They are usually well trained, especially if they are accredited by the Royal Federation of NZ Justices’ Association.’
There are 7000 or so Justices of the Peace in New Zealand. They make themselves available to take affidavits, witness documents, and certify copies of documents. In so doing, they play a key role in upholding the rule of law and supporting cost-effective legal services.
Kiwilaw helps people to act for themselves in legal proceedings – especially in applications for probate or letters of administration, where Kiwilaw provides a low-cost alternative to standard lawyer services (charging $490 for probate documents, instead of $1200 or more).
‘We send the documents to clients nationwide, with full instructions for getting affidavits sworn or affirmed in front of a JP,’ Simes said. ‘Then the client submits the documents in their own name, rather than through us. If the JPs did not exist, or could not be relied on, our clients would have to travel to court offices or use local lawyers, at least some of whom would charge for their time.’
‘Occasionally we have heard back from a client who has had a problem with a JP – in one case the JP insisted on putting their own stamp on a will, and in another case the JP refused to sign the exhibit note on the original will. In the second case, the JP checked with the local court registrar who gave them the wrong answer. We sorted it out, and we have improved our written instructions to clients, to help them make sure everything is done right.’
‘In Hamilton, where I practised family law, I knew I could rely on several JPs to help protection-order clients with urgent affidavits at night. Some would travel to the client’s home if there were special circumstances. One drove out to a client in the country on a Saturday afternoon because the client had no transport and the application was urgent.’
‘I would like to see a stronger working relationship between lawyers and JPs. Lawyers tend to think that only another lawyer can be trusted to witness a client’s documents. That is simply not true. Moreover, lawyers now sometimes charge for witnessing documents, whereas JPs do not. That makes a difference.’
‘Clients can find a JP on the JPs website or in the Yellow Pages (under ‘Justices of the Peace’). The website listings show which JPs are accredited, with contact details.’
‘Most towns and cities also have a regular fixed time when a JP is available at a library or courthouse to sign documents without an appointment. That information is also on the website.’