Becoming a Justice of the Peace

Published: Monday | September 21, 2009

Football coach Leebert Anthony Halliman (left) receives his proclamation from Bishop Carmen Stewart, custos of St Andrew, while being sworn in as justice of the peace in 2008. Looking on is Marigold Harding, president of the St Andrew Justices of the Peace and Lay Magistrate associations. - FILE

Jonathan Brown* has been living in his community in rural Jamaica for more than 30 years. He wants to become a Justice of the Peace (JP) but is unsure of the procedures to become a member of this august body. Additionally, he wants to know what functions, other than signing documents, a JP performs.

Who can become a JP?

Any Jamaican citizen, between the ages of 25 and 70, who is able to speak and write English, may be eligible to become a JP. Additionally, any person wanting to become a JP is expected to:

Be a mature individual who commands the respect and confidence of his/her community members

Hold a record of having given good service and leadership to his/her community or the country and should show the potential for further good service, and,

Be able to communicate and interact at all levels with all types of individuals in his/her community.

How is a JP chosen and appointed?

Any citizen, club, organisation or other such body or enterprise, may recommend that an individual be appointed a JP. The recommendations must be made to the Custos of the parish in which the individual resides.

Having received this recommendation, the Custos will then instruct that enquiries be made into the background of the person so recommended. This is a precautionary measure to ensure that the individual under consideration is suitable for the position of responsibility.

Every parish has an Advisory Committee made up of the Custos, the Resident Magistrate and the Superintendent of Police, which is constantly reviewing the requirements of each community to ensure that there are enough JPs to meet the needs of the community and the Courts of Petty Sessions, Juvenile Courts and Drug Court. These parish Advisory Committees also ensure that there is an adequate supply of JPs willing and able to sign documents for the public throughout the parish.

The Custos submits the names of persons approved by the Advisory Committee to the Minister of Justice. The Minister peruses the requirements in the Act and after being satisfied, makes her recommendations to the Governor-General. Each appointment is by Commission.

Every JP must be trained prior to commissioning.

Those appointed to become JPs must take an 'oath of office', for only then can they be called Justice of the Peace, and given the instrument and official seal and be permitted to discharge the functions of that office.

Functions of a JP

A JP is a person of unquestionable integrity who seeks to promote and protect the rights of the individual and helps to give justice to those persons in a particular community. In order to realize these objectives he/she seeks to demonstrate a commitment to promoting harmony in the community.

Additionally, the JP:

Serves as a Justice in a Court of Petty Sessions. Here he/she will be appointed to a panel and will hear and will determine complaints brought by citizens and the police against other citizens where the cause of the complaint takes place in the parish in which the court sits.

Attends the Children's Courts and Drug Court. He/she assists the judge in dealing with matters affecting children.

Issues summonses. This is done to compel persons to attend court. At other times a JP may have to issue a warrant for the search of premises believed to contain illegal goods. He/she may also issue a warrant for the arrest of any person who, on good grounds, is believed to have committed a serious crime.

Considers applications for bail. A JP will do this in respect of persons who have been arrested and are in police custody.

Attends police stations. This is in order to ensure that the proper procedures are followed where arrested persons, who are in police custody, make statements under caution. The JP will also see to it that proper procedures are followed with respect to those persons who are placed on identification parades.

Explains and signs documents. Persons often seek the help of a JP with regards to wills, transfers, common law titles and other kinds of legal documents.

Sits on licensing panels. These panels consider and grant applications for licences at Spirit Licence sessions, and,

Gives counsel and advice. Often he/she is required to listen to and where possible, help persons who experience various kinds of problems and seek the advice of a leader in the community.

A JP must not charge or accept 'reward' for any service he/she performs in that office.

Makes recommendations for jobs among other things.

*Name changed