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‘Who will pay me to serve?’ - Justices of the Peace claim the cost for their ‘voluntary service’ is too high

Published:Friday | September 18, 2015 | 12:00 AMRyon Jones
Justices of the peace for Kingston during a meeting in March.

While the law bars justices of the peace (JPs) for charging for their service, the request for a financial contribution is a regular one from many of those who should be offering a voluntary service to the public.

But some JPs are claiming that the cost they face in delivering the service leaves them with little choice but to ask persons to pay for services such as certifying documents.

“If you come a mi house mi no want nothing from you, but (here) mi have to pay rent and light bill. So the contributions they give go to rent and light bill. You have to buy everything; down to the ID you use to show say you a JP you have to pay for it,” argued a justice of the peace who operates out of a document centre near the tax office on King Street in downtown Kingston.

“A $70,000 fi di rent here and mi nuh start talk about light bill. And mi feel like I am giving a service, because not everybody know a JP and you will know the JP and him tell yu say him not doing it, because him just nuh want to do it.

“So understand the thing and all like me who nah work. You know from when they say them a look into giving JPs a stipend and all now,” added the woman as she defended her decision to charge.

Two other JPs were seen offering their service for a ‘contribution’ during our news team’s visit to the Kings Street tax office.

One JP, commissioned to serve in St Andrew, positioned himself just outside the door of the tax office where we were told that he would sign documents and photographs for anybody who has a “contribution of $200”.

The third JP, who is from St Thomas, did not ask for money, but instead had a box prominently placed on his desk labelled ‘gift certificate’ with paper notes in it.

But Custos of Kingston, Steadman Fuller, said even this form of soliciting by JPs is wrong.

Fuller argued that his jurisdiction is an ideal one for dishonest JPs to engage in their illegal or unethical acts.

“I think the particular area is a ripe for the need for JPs, because it is a area that requires a lot of authentication by JPs,” said Fuller.

“So you will find in those vicinities like passport office area, tax office areas a number of people turn up in these areas and need a JP to sign things.

“You have more people (in Kingston), you have more Government offices that require documents to be signed by JPs and so you find more people jump on the opportunity to do so (charge),” added Fuller.

According to Fuller, this is not the first he has received complaints about JPs in his jurisdiction charging for their services and has decommissioned three JPs since he was appointed custos in 2010.

“It is supposed to be a voluntary service offered from your house or from your place of work. It is not a profession,” said Fuller.

“You are not even supposed to ask for a gift or suggest that a person may give you one and a box would give a certain feeling that you want to be given a contribution.”

The Custos said it is not being considered for JPs to be given a stipend, but other methods are instead being examined to reduce the demand for those unscrupulous ones who make a living by placing themselves close to government buildings.

“One of the discussions that we have been having in this jurisdiction of JPs is to provide a resident JP at these locations (such as passport office and tax offices),” said Fuller as he vowed to immediately carry out an investigation into the conduct of JPs within his jurisdiction.

Fuller warned that where JPs are found to be accepting compensation for their services they will be summoned to his office and “if it is credible information then they are going to be asked to hand me the government’s seal which is the tool of their trade”.