Debate on legislation aimed at strengthening the regime governing the functions of Justices of the Peace (JPs) began in the House of Representatives on November 21.
The Justice of the Peace Bill and the Renaming of the Courts of Petty Sessions (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill were piloted by Minister of Justice, Hon. Delroy Chuck.
The Bills provide for codifying the selection, appointment, discipline, regulation and code of conduct of JPs; increasing the monetary jurisdiction of JPs; and renaming the Petty Sessions Courts to Lay Magistrates’ Courts.
In his address, Mr. Chuck said despite the importance of the functions of JPs in the country, there is no legislation governing how they operate.
He pointed out that in or around 2006, a Committee comprising the Chief Justice, the Custodes, the Legal Reform Department and personnel from the Ministry of Justice crafted a Code of Conduct and incorporated the existing rules.
The Minister said that this Code of Conduct was gazetted and has been the closest matter to legislation governing the functions of JPs in Jamaica.
“Let me hasten to highlight the fact that the Justice of the Peace (Jurisdiction) Act only governs the judicial functions of Justices of the Peace and does not address the issues covered under the Bill before this Honourable House,” Mr. Chuck said.
“With that said, I will seize this opportunity to inform that in a short while from now, a comprehensive review of the Justice of the Peace (Jurisdiction) Act will be undertaken with a view to modernisation. This piece of legislation was enacted in 1850,” he added.
The Minister said the Bills now before the Lower House will go a far way in impressing upon the minds of not only the JPs but all Jamaicans the seriousness of the Office of Justice of the Peace.
In addition, Mr. Chuck said the rules are silent on what should happen to a JP who has been criminally charged or convicted. “This deficit in the law must be arrested immediately,” Mr. Chuck emphasised.
“Another issue is the perennial problem of JPs losing their seals through negligence, and the Government must fork out 50 per cent of the replacement cost of the seal, and the JP only being required to pay 50 per cent. Statistics have shown that the majority of seals reported as stolen were stolen after being left in parked motor vehicles. The Government cannot continue to fund negligence,” he said.
Mr. Chuck said there is also the issue of whether it is proper for a JP to charge a fee for his services in that office, adding that the traditional functions of JPs have changed over time, and so, the law must be developed in recognition of this.
“As it relates to the name of the Petty Sessions Court, from as far back as 2007, a Task Force mandated to review and make recommendations for the improvement of our justice system recommended that the name of the Petty Sessions Court be changed to the Lay Magistrates’ Court,” he noted.
According to the Task Force, this will change the public’s perception of this Court, as, often times, Lay Magistrates are not afforded the respect of other judicial officers, despite the serious nature of their role.
“So, it is for all the above reasons, and more, that the law must be refined and clarified to reflect the increasing significance of the Office of the Justice of the Peace to our society,” Mr. Chuck said.
For the Justice of the Peace Bill, Clause 5 provides guidance on the appointment of Justices. Clause 7 imposes a duty on the JPs to observe the Code of Conduct or face being penalised for misconduct, while Clause 8 removes the restrictions to serve only in the JP’s parish of residence.
In terms of the Courts of Petty Sessions (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill, Clause 2 provides for the renaming of the Courts of Petty Sessions to the Lay Magistrates’ Courts.