Appointment of Justices of the Peace

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Set out below is a statement on the procedures and general policies in respect of Justice of the Peace nominations, as issued March 2009 from the Associate Minister of Justice, Hon Nathan Guy.

Introduction

Although the office of Justice of the Peace does hold a status, the position is not an “honour” but one involving serious duties and responsibilities. Justices have the important responsibility of assisting to preserve the rule of law.

It is the responsibility of each electorate Member of Parliament to ensure that his or her electorate is adequately serviced by Justices of the Peace. Nominations for persons to be appointed as Justices of the Peace are accepted only from Members of Parliament. List Members of Parliament may submit nominations in their own name but they will need to have the prior endorsement of the appropriate electorate Member of Parliament.

Nominations

Two matters are important in considering a person for appointment; first, the nominees personal suitability for appointment; and second, the need for the services of additional Justices of the Peace either in the area where the nominee spends the working day or in the nominees residential district.

Persons nominated must have an adequate standard of education and be well-regarded in their community. The nominee must be respected as a person of good sense and integrity.

Justices of the Peace are required to deal with a variety of legal documents and Members of Parliament need to satisfy themselves that their nominees possess the acumen to exercise the powers of the office. Nominees should have a genuine desire to serve the community and it must be stressed that if they are appointed they are expected to be active in discharging their duties.

Members of Parliament should also bear in mind the need for balanced representation in the community. In some electorates, there may be a need to improve the representative mix of Justices of the Peace.

Notwithstanding a persons character and ability, appointments are made only where there are not already sufficient Justices of the Peace to meet the requirements of the public. The purpose of appointment is not to bestow an honour on a deserving citizen but to meet a public need. Members of Parliament should not submit nominations unless they are satisfied more Justices are in fact necessary to serve a public need.

I would commend to Members of Parliament the value of liaising with the local Justices of the Peace Association prior to submitting nominations. The Associations are in a position to provide advice about the number and mix of active Justices of the Peace residing in their area.

When nominating a Justice of the Peace, Members of Parliament also need to:

  • consider whether there might be any conflict of interest, or a perception of a conflict, created by appointing Justices of the Peace with close personal ties, particularly where judicial functions are concerned; and
  • take care to avoid any appearance of patronage or favour being shown to a particular family, group or organisation.

Members of Parliament should be wary of nominations where appointment is sought to facilitate the operation of the nominees own business. In order to avoid this, Members of Parliament should ensure that nominees include at least two letters from recognised community organisations stating specifically that they support the nominee for appointment as a Justice of the Peace. Prospective nominees are also required to provide with their nomination form:

  • a curriculum vitae describing their work history and community involvement; and,
  • a paragraph stating their reasons for wishing to become a Justice of the Peace.

Procedures

Nominations are to be submitted to the Associate Minister of Justice on the nomination form, which is available from the Office of the Associate Minister of Justice. Members will note that they are required to sign the nomination form on the lower half of the reverse side of the form. Nominations by list members must be endorsed by the relevant Electorate Member of Parliament.

All nominations received will be acknowledged by letter from the Office of the Associate Minister of Justice.

Three reports are completed on each nominee. The first is a report made by the Registrar of the local District Court following an interview with the nominee. The second report is completed by the local Justice of the Peace Association, who attends the interview between the Registrar and the nominee. Both of these reports address the nominees personal suitability for appointment and the need for an additional appointment in the area. The remaining report is a routine check made through the New Zealand Police Licensing and Vetting Service Centre for any conviction records. The conviction report is used to verify the conviction information supplied by the nominee on the nomination form and to determine the nominees suitability for appointment as a Justice of the Peace. This information is disclosed to the Ministry of Justice and is not provided to the local Justice of the Peace Association.

If the reports indicate that the nominee is suitable and that the appointment is necessary, the Associate Minister of Justice then provisionally appoints the nominee. Following satisfactory completion of training by the Royal Federation of New Zealand Justices, the nominating Member is notified that an appointment will be recommended to the Governor-General. Members of Parliament will also be advised when nominees are not being recommended. The general reasons why the nomination was declined will be given.

Those nominees who are appointed will receive an appointment letter. Members of Parliament should note, however, that it is their responsibility to advise unsuccessful nominees.

A nomination that is unsuccessful is not carried forward. Consequently, it is necessary for Members of Parliament to submit a new nomination should they wish to nominate the same person at some future time.

General Policies

The settled policies towards the appointment as Justices of the Peace members of certain occupational groups or professions are these:

Members of Parliament

Members of Parliament are not appointed as Justices of the Peace. However, section 9 of the Oaths and Declarations Act 1957 gives Members of Parliament the authority to take statutory declarations.

Clergy and Persons in Religious Orders

The personal and confidential relationships that often exist between the lay members of a church and their clergy could make it difficult for the clergy to maintain the detachment necessary to perform some of the functions of a Justice of the Peace. Moreover, it may be regarded as inappropriate for the clergy or persons in religious orders to preside over court sittings to convict and to pass sentence on offenders. For these reasons it has been the general policy for many years to decline nominations of clergy and those in religious orders. However, occasional exceptions have been made in special cases, for example where the nominee is a leader of a particular community.

Legal Practitioners and Staff Employed in Legal Firms

For many years it has been settled practice not to appoint practising barristers or solicitors as Justices of the Peace. Barristers and solicitors are officers of the court with a particular part to play in the administration of justice. They can as such take statutory declarations without further appointment. The restriction does not apply to legal executives or other employees of legal firms so long as the appointment is made for the full purpose of the Act and not just to assist the work of the legal firm.

Medical Practitioners

Practising medical practitioners are not, as a general rule, appointed. Doctors’ responsibilities in the community are demanding and important and the additional obligations imposed by appointment as a Justice of the Peace would be difficult to discharge effectively.

Public Servants and Employees of Local Authorities

Those public servants and employees of local authorities whose duties include law enforcement responsibilities, for example Police Officers, are not appointed, nor are public servants employed in courts or penal institutions or as probation officers or social workers in the departments of Maori Affairs and Social Development.

Similarly it is not the practice to appoint former members of omit law enforcement agencies if only a short period has elapsed since they left that employment. Where a reasonable period has passed, however, the appointment of otherwise suitable nominees has been made.

Other public servants may be appointed but are exempt from court work (judicial duties) while in the service of the Crown.

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