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Justices of the Peace Amendment Bill

First Reading

Thursday 29 June 2006 Hansard source (external site)

Debate resumed from 27 June.

FinlaysonCHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON (National) Link to this

As Dr Worth said on Tuesday night, the National Party supports the first reading of this legislation. I cannot help start my first reading speech by observing that it is incredible to think that in the 1980s the then Labour Government had an outstanding trial lawyer as Prime Minister, in David Lange; a distinguished ex - law professor as Attorney-General and Minister of Justice—and that was brought home to me today when Sir Geoffrey Palmer was speaking before the Justice and Electoral Committee in his capacity of chairman of the Legislation Advisory Committee—and lawyers like Bill Jeffries, David Caygill, and Richard Prebble in key portfolios, yet today Labour can provide only people of the calibre of Clayton Cosgrove to be Associate Minister of Justice. I really enjoy working with Russell Fairbrother on the Justice and Electoral Committee and I cannot understand why he is not the Minister of Justice, especially given the performance of the Minister in the House today during question time. With those preliminary comments I now pass on to debate the bill.

I begin by paying tribute to justices of the peace and the work they do. As Dr Worth said—as befits a person of his scholarship—the job of justice of the peace is “an ancient and honourable job”. Indeed, my research has indicated that it goes back to a statute of Edward III in 1327, which provided—and I ask the woman MPs of the House to excuse the sexist language—that “good men and lawful shall be assigned to keep the peace”. As that great National Attorney-General John Marshall said on 5 July 1957 when introducing the second reading of the Justices of the Peace Bill—and I quote from Hansard, Volume 311, at page 639—“The office of justice of the peace is an ancient and an honourable one. The extent and importance of the functions of the office have varied from time to time, but for six centuries of British history Justices of the Peace have been an established feature of the British way of life and an element in the administration of justice.” A little further on he says: “The system of appointing Justices of the Peace came to New Zealand with the first colonists as part of the law of England.”

The work of a JP is varied and very important, and I can identify at least three major tasks: first, the routine administrative tasks performed every day by JPs, often at the most inconvenient times; second, the tasks sometimes performed by JPs under the now repealed Coroners Act of 1988—we are now working towards a regime of full-time coroners, but the work of JPs in this area is to be praised and acknowledged—and, third, judicial functions, such as hearing depositions, dealing with miscellaneous court matters like careless driving charges, and helping District Court judges with bail applications and adjournments, quite often on Saturdays and public holidays. So justices of the peace play a very important role in New Zealand’s criminal and, sometimes, civil justice systems and generously give of their time.

As is well known, the bill has three main provisions. The first is it requires all newly appointed justices of the peace to undertake training before taking their oath of office. For some reason, the training that is proposed relates only to the administrative functions undertaken by justices of the peace, rather than also relating to the judicial functions. I would have thought that was rather strange, because if ever there was an area where training was needed, it would be the performance of judicial functions. The second is that the bill introduces a new disciplinary regime, to enable a justice of the peace to be removed or suspended from office, or subject to lesser disciplinary action in less serious cases. The third is to permit the designation of “JP (retired)” for JPs who have held office for a period of over 10 years.

As can be seen, the bill deals with three matters of varying degrees of importance, but it does not deal with some issues that I would have thought it could deal with. The first relates to qualification for appointment. I think there is an argument to be made that the vetting of applications could be much stricter. The second aspect, and it is linked to the issue of the education of JPs, is that of continuing education. In the various professions these days, for example, there is a requirement for professionals to receive continuing legal education or continuing medical education. I cannot see why the bill cannot provide for that, and maybe the select committee could consider that matter. The third aspect that I think could be looked at, given the fact that justices of the peace are by and large a very sensible and professional lot who contribute a lot to the community, is the jurisdiction of judicial justices of the peace. I would like to see it increased so that, for example, they can deal with such matters as imposing a fine of, say, up to $7,500, or imposing terms of imprisonment. I think justices of the peace could play a role in respect of diversion. I certainly think they could play a role in respect of restorative justice.

It is extraordinary that a bill that deals with only three matters is rather long and complex legislation. To my way of thinking, although of course National members do not oppose it going to a select committee, it somehow misses the plot in that it fails to deal with a number of important matters. I took a good look at the Justices of the Peace Act of 1957. That Act is very simple legislation, made up of 10 sections. It deals with the appointment of justices, their functions and powers, their attendance at court, and other such matters. In the 1950s the lawmakers managed to express themselves reasonably succinctly, in 10 sections, yet the bill before the House, which amends the substantive legislation, is longer than the Act itself.

KingColin King Link to this

That tells us something.

FinlaysonCHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON Link to this

It does tell us something. For the benefit of Mr King, it tells us something about wordiness of expression and, sometimes, over-prescription. It exemplifies an unfortunate trend in legislative drafting towards making complicated and complex that which need not necessarily be so. I am sure this bill could be made more succinct. I think it was Mark Twain who said: “I apologise. I didn’t have time to write a short letter. I had to write a long one.” A similar sort of thing could be said about legislative drafting but if we knuckle down and put a bit of time and effort into it, we can end up with something that is more succinct than this rather wordy effort.

But, with those preliminary comments in mind, National does not oppose the first reading. I think the bill should go to a select committee. Further work needs to be done on it, and during the course of the Committee stage some of those other areas that I referred to can be incorporated into the bill. I do not think that would undermine the general thrust of the bill, and it would make for better legislation.

RoyERIC ROY (National—Invercargill) Link to this

I did not come down to the House with the specific intention of seeking a speaking slot. I am delighted to see that the Justices of the Peace Amendment Bill is the item on the Order Paper that we are now dealing with. I would like to make just a few brief comments. I appreciated the comments of my learned friend Chris Finlayson. I am actually a JP, and have been for some considerable time. I serve in all sorts of capacities in Wellington, the district I live in, and in Invercargill. I carry my stamps and paraphernalia with me. It is a task that many people do willingly, and they make a contribution to the community. I am sure Parliament would recognise the service that JPs give. Nevertheless, there are some important issues.

I certainly support the tenor of the first part of the bill—that there needs to be some training, and some ongoing training. However, I have a concern, and I would not like this to be taken out of context. The great majority of people who are JPs do it as part of their community service. They do it to the best of their endeavours, and they make their best endeavours to keep skilled for the job’s requirements. However, there are a few people who like “JP” after their name and they do not contribute greatly to the services of being a JP. [Interruption] I will come to the selection process in a minute. I have more concerns around that than around almost anything that JPs do.

The very status of justice of the peace is interesting, and it is probably regarded more highly outside New Zealand than it is within New Zealand. Just on Monday of this week a foreign national from Malaysia wanting to renew a passport came to see me. That person had had all the relevant documents certified as exact copies by the registrar of the court, but the copies had been rejected by the Malaysian authorities because they wanted the copies signed by a justice of the peace. I would have thought that the registrar of the court would outrank, by many degrees, my humble self in my role as a justice of the peace—who knows? The passport may have been rejected subsequently. However, around the world the role of justice of the peace may certainly differ slightly, but justices of the peace are held in reasonably high regard.

I support the regular training of justices of the peace. Training should not be limited to the initial training, but there should also be regular refresher courses. The justice of the peace association, to which I belong, does its very best to continue with training programmes. However, there is no mandatory requirement for justices of the peace to be attached to the association, nor is there any mandatory requirement that justices of the peace do any ongoing training, and I have to say that attendance at the association is probably only about 50 percent in the area I am in, which concerns me. I do not think that is something we can legislate for; however, we need to acknowledge that that area needs some kind of attention.

The other area I wish to comment on is the selection process, and I alluded to this matter earlier. I know that some members of Parliament make recommendations for the appointment of justices of the peace—or, at least, those members are certainly in a position to make recommendations to the Minister, if not the appointments themselves—and some interesting people have been appointed as justices of the peace. In the past, entire campaign committees have been made justices of the peace, and I am aware that the appointment process for justices of the peace has been abused. Because of that, I have set some ground rules in my area. If anybody approaches me as an MP who could make a recommendation, I tell them that the people I listen to are members of the justices of the peace association. Again, I am trying to empower and strengthen the association’s role, and that keeps people in touch, as well. If the association gives an applicant its approval, I will sign off the application. I think that doing it that way takes into consideration ethnicity, location, and ability, because it is very easy to find people who are prepared to authorise documents and that sort of thing, but people who can take the next rung, do some of the court work, and step up to the mark in that capacity are a little harder to find. We need to have our MPs working with the justices of the peace association more in that area to ensure that we have the right kind of person coming through.

Another issue I wish to raise, which is not covered in this bill, is the safety of justices of the peace. I am aware of at least two justices of the peace in my area who have either done court service or been required to make some kind of decision as to whether they will authenticate documents, and then have received anonymous threats by phone, by mail, and by various other means. I think we can assume that those threats are some kind of repercussion from what those justices of the peace have done while acting in good service—which they are not paid for—and now they are reasonably concerned about their situation. I would hope that the Minister of Justice is giving that area some due consideration.

I am sure this issue certainly rates very highly with the two justices of the peace whom I am aware of, and I would suggest that theirs is not a unique situation. Although the police are prepared to act, it takes quite a bit of police effort to actually trace anonymous calls and letters. Meanwhile, those justices of the peace are still receiving the threats—despite having the police drive by reasonably frequently and doing what monitoring they can. So I raise that issue for the House’s information. A number of people in the community are fulfilling the role of justice of the peace with the best of intentions, yet they face a very adverse reaction from some undesirable people in the community for doing that. So that is an issue we need to give some consideration to.

I note also that there is provision in here to have a “JP (retired)” section. I stated earlier that some people like the title. I think after people have given a lifetime of service for which they are not paid, it is nice to acknowledge that and I support that provision. I am not sure whether it is in the principal Act—I did not have time to read it—but in clause 5, in Part 2, there is a “when JPs turn bad” section to defrock them, or whatever the term is to remove them from office. I wonder how often that happens or whether something has occurred that has precipitated that to be considered in here. I would be very interested to receive the explanation on that.

In general, I support the legislation. I echo the comments my colleague Chris Finlayson made. It is a rather lengthy amendment bill for the three short sections it deals with, and the principal Act is not so lengthy. I support it going to a select committee and I look forward to seeing what sorts of submissions come in, particularly from any JPs out there now who have some concerns around this. Maybe there are some issues that need to be considered, because an amendment bill to the Justices of the Peace Act is not something that would come before this House very often. It is an opportunity for other issues to be considered as well.

FlavellTE URUROA FLAVELL (Māori Party—Waiariki) Link to this

With a couple of minutes to go, I want to introduce the Māori Party statement before we go off and have a break. Tēnā koe, tēnā tātou katoa.

In introducing our position on the Justices of the Peace Amendment Bill, I want to talk about one of the people involved in my own constituency in a historical context. I turn to one of our people whose name was Karauria Tīwaka Ānaru, also known as Claude, who was born on 2 June 1901 at Raukōkore in the Eastern Bay of Plenty. Claude Ānaru was appointed as a justice of the peace in 1947, and with the support of Mr C J Wright he was largely responsible for the formation of the Rotorua and District Justices of the Peace Association. Claude later became president and first life member of the Rotorua and District Justices of the Peace Association. He married Hanahira Riripōtaka of Te Arawa, who played a prominent part in the Waiariki branch of the Maori Women’s Welfare League and was also a justice of the peace.

I use these examples—fine examples they are—in considering this particular bill. I understand that they were individuals of high integrity, of considerable standing amongst our community, people with a deep understanding of Māori culture, language, and whakapapa, and with enormous expertise across health, social services, legal, and tribal affairs. They demonstrated discipline. They represented the type of outstanding and upstanding member of the community we look for in justices of the peace.

It is disappointing that such high ideals have clearly not been reflected in other JPs, which has caused the new proposals endorsed in this bill. It is with some disillusionment that the Māori Party has become aware of the record of complaints kept by the Ministry of Justice about JPs, including convictions for offences, such as bankruptcy, and personal conflict. We support the introduction of the new disciplinary regime although, of course, we are concerned at the eroding values that would see people destroy the trust and confidence that the public places in such roles. We believe that standards need to be upheld, and that in the interests of excellent public service, accountability, and safety, a consistent and transparent procedure for disciplinary action must be in place.

It may well be that, in the initial training in the role of justice of the peace—which is initiated in this bill—including the background to the history of these positions will assist in providing the context for the duties and responsibilities that a justice of the peace takes on. Indeed, the Māori Party would suggest that the training component for the new provisions of this bill must go much further than simply administrative renewals of licences and updating the JPs on changes. We would recommend that a programme of cultural safety be introduced.

Debate interrupted.

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