Tue | Oct 4, 2022

CORRUPT JUSTICES

• Several JPs accept cash despite law against charging • Leaders condemn practice as recommendations written, photos signed without knowing citizens

Published:Sunday | April 17, 2022 | 12:10 AMTyrone Reid - Associate Editor – Investigations
Justice Minister Delroy Chuck
Justice Minister Delroy Chuck
Jamaica Employers’ Federation President David Wan
Jamaica Employers’ Federation President David Wan
Senator Donna Scott Mottley, opposition spokesperson on justice and gender affairs.
Senator Donna Scott Mottley, opposition spokesperson on justice and gender affairs.
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A series of Sunday Gleaner undercover investigations across multiple parishes have revealed that some justices of the peace (JPs) are flouting the law by charging for their services and lying in letters of recommendation they write for complete...

A series of Sunday Gleaner undercover investigations across multiple parishes have revealed that some justices of the peace (JPs) are flouting the law by charging for their services and lying in letters of recommendation they write for complete strangers.

Our team interfaced with 16 JPs across six parishes last week, capturing a number of them on camera as they collected money for their services and affixed their seals, attesting to the identity and good character of persons they had met for the very first time on that same day.

In one instance, a female undercover reporter was repeatedly sexually harassed by JPs who shared an office in Clarendon.

At the end of that uncomfortable encounter, one of the JPs signed and sealed a recommendation in which he falsely attested to knowing her for five years despite only just meeting her.

The reporter was also allowed to use a computer at the office to write her own recommendation letter based on a template provided by the JP.

Another JP, who operates in the Corporate Area, also wrote a letter of recommendation for another reporter he had just met, collecting payment and also issuing a receipt.

Section 15 of the Justice of the Peace Act, 2018 imposes a duty upon the holders of the office to provide their services free of charge.

The legislation, which sets out how justices are appointed, their jurisdiction and standards of conduct clearly states: “For the avoidance of doubt, it is hereby confirmed that the office of justice of the peace is not an office of emolument, and the duty to carry out the functions of the office free of charge shall be deemed to be a requirement of the office.”

In the First Schedule of the legislation detailing the code of conduct for JPs, it states further that the holder of the office shall not use the title to secure any personal financial benefit.

According to the JP Act, a person is eligible to be appointed to that office if, among other things, the governor general is satisfied the individual is of “unquestionable integrity”.

Every holder of the office takes an oath. And, the tenure is usually for the life of the holder of the office or until that person relocates and resides in a foreign country, retires, resigns or is removed from the office.

The law also empowers the governor general to revoke the appointment of a JP if that person taints the office, or is likely to bring it into public ridicule, cause public scandal or bring the administration of justice into disrepute.

THE REAL CHALLENGE

“The allegations of JPs charging for their services and writing recommendations for strangers are well known … . Such behaviour is definitely against their code of conduct and an offence under the Justice of the Peace Act (2018),” Justice Minister Delroy Chuck noted when informed of the findings of The Sunday Gleaner probe last week.

“The real challenge is to apprehend these recalcitrants, as many beneficiaries of these unlawful and inappropriate behaviour are unwilling to report and provide evidence to convict these offending JPs. As minister, I have spoken out against these malpractices at every available and appropriate opportunity,” added Chuck, who, while not disclosing a figure, said that a number of JPs have been decommissioned for unlawfully charging for their services and writing recommendations for strangers.

“[The Ministry of Justice] has had many training sessions informing JPs of the provisions of the act and emphasising that recommendations can only be given to persons known and not to strangers,” the justice minister said in a written response to The Sunday Gleaner.

He added that the ministry was currently promoting parish JP associations that will be responsible for monitoring and overseeing the behaviour of justices within their parishes.

“Hopefully, those JPs who are breaching their code of conduct can be exposed and ultimately convicted and decommissioned. For the record, the vast majority of JPs provide invaluable voluntary service to many communities, dispense justice in Lay Magistrate Courts, inform and help residents in many ways, and are a strong resource in most neighbourhoods,” said Chuck, adding that JPs have played and continue to play an admirable and unselfish role.

Noting that there was “no disciplinary or supervisory role in the act for the minister and/or the Ministry of Justice”, he urged citizens to report offences to the police or custodes, lamenting that a few miscreants were tainting the unquestionable reputation for honesty and integrity of the vast majority.

Asked for a response to the findings, particularly in relation to the potential security implications of the untrue letters of recommendation, Senior Superintendent Stephanie Lindsay, who heads the Jamaica Constabulary Force's communications arm, declined.

The Justices of the Peace Act establishes in each parish a Justices of the Peace Advisory Committee. According to the law, that committee should include “a senior police officer in the parish” not below the rank of deputy superintendent, who is nominated by the police commissioner.

'FINDINGS ARE DISTURBING'

Dr Lynden Rose, president of the Lay Magistrates' Association of Jamaica, which represents JPs, told The Sunday Gleaner that he was troubled by the results of the investigation.

“These findings are disturbing and constitute breaches of the justices of the peace code of conduct and must, therefore, be reported to the custos rotulorum of the parish to which the JP belongs,” Rose said.

Jamaica Employers' Federation (JEF) President David Wan also expressed sadness at the findings, noting that employers place confidence in documents signed and sealed by JPs.

“We as employers … have to take it on faith that the authorities have done their screening and due diligence such that anyone designated a JP is of high integrity. We put a lot of weight behind a document or reference certified by a JP, ... so we are disappointed, to say the least, about this report based on what you shared with me,” stated Wan.

The JEF boss believes employers are being put in an impossible position.

“We can't go investigating every document with a JP certification that we get. It's really up to the lay magistrates association to convey that they are doing what's necessary to ensure the integrity of each JP's certification,” he said.

Jeanette Calder, executive director of the Jamaica Accountability Meter Portal (JAMP), told our news team that the honour system on which the office of JPs is established should be preserved.

“At the heart of the work of a justice of the peace is the age-old value of volunteerism – the response of a citizen who desires to assist in a cause without the motivation or expectation of financial compensation. Preserving that spirit to give back will be crucial to developing our nation, and as helpful as it is, it will require more than sting operations by journalists and law enforcement officers,” Calder said.

“To send a message to all justices of the peace, as well as those tempted to pay for the services, these breaches of trust should see a full application of accountability that the law affords. However, while the law is clear, its penalties are insufficient to deter these acts of corruption. A combination of penalty and pragmatism is necessary,” the JAMP boss added.

According to Calder, an alternative to JPs should be considered, as many citizens neither know JPs nor are known by them. This particular challenge, she said, presents opportunities for corrupt transactions.

'MOST OFFENSIVE'

Senator Donna Scott Mottley, opposition spokesperson on justice and gender affairs, was left stupefied by the sexually coarse conduct of the male JPs towards our female undercover reporter.

“I am stunned, I am speechless, and I am repulsed. Of all the allegations I have heard, this is the most offensive. It is so vulgar. That person should be removed from the office and exposed to the community,” Scott Mottley charged.

She also said employers must now be alert to the fact that they may receive falsified letters of recommendation bearing the signature and seal of JPs.

“There is no question about that. There are people who rely on these attestations to make certain decisions. The response needs to be swift. It is an act of corruption and it has become quite normalised in our society. The only way to change that system is to act swiftly. People need to know there are consequences when they run afoul of their duties,” Scott Mottley told The Sunday Gleaner.

Calling for a probe by the authorities to uncover and decommission law-breaking JPs, the opposition spokesperson on justice advanced that it is perhaps time for consideration to paying JPs a stipend, as the duties can be time-consuming.

tyrone.reid@gleanerjm.com

What the legislation says ...

 

The Justices of the Peace Act, 2018

 

Code of Conduct for Justices of the Peace

The objective of this Code is to reinforce the effective administration of justice by promoting high moral and ethical conduct among Justices of the Peace and the eradication of any tendency to corrupt practice.

In carrying out the duties of the Office, a Justice of the Peace shall –

(a) act professionally, fairly, diligently and expeditiously, and to the best of that Justice's ability;

(b) be unbiased in the exercise of the functions of the Justice and shall take all necessary steps to avoid conflicts of interest (real or perceived) and to uphold the integrity of the Office, and shall scrupulously preserve his or her independence in the performance of those functions;

(c) act at all times in the public interest, without fear or favour, and avoiding partisan political influences;

(d) not use the title “Justice of the Peace” to secure any personal financial benefit.

 

Duty to provide services free of charge

For the avoidance of doubt, it is hereby confirmed that the office of Justice of the Peace is not an office of emolument, and the duty to carry out the functions of the Office free of charge shall be deemed to be a requirement of the Office.