MINISTER of Justice Delroy Chuck wants to increase the number of justices of the peace (JPs) available in Jamaica by over 14,000.
“The position is that you should have a Justice of the peace for every 100 (citizens). Now, if we had a JP for every 100 persons we would have 20-odd thousand. At the moment, we have less than 6,000,” Chuck told the House of Representatives yesterday.
He said that it was important that there are more JPs in every parish and every community, especially in the inner city and rural areas.
“And we are working on that over the next few months so that we have more than enough JPs,” he added.
The minister was responding to questions from Opposition spokesman on national security, Peter Bunting, following his statement to the House on restorative and other justice services.
Bunting had suggested that, while many of the JPs were doing yeoman service in their parishes and communities, some were not performing.
“There are some who seem to consider it more like a national honour, and having gotten the JP behind their names, actually don’t make themselves available to do community service and available to sign documents, et cetera,” Bunting said.
He added that some of the JPs were failing to carry out activities like visiting police lock-ups.
“You find the same core that tends to be doing [everything],” the former minister complained.
Chuck said he agreed that there are many JPs “who see it as a status, rather than a service”.
“You are appointed and, in the community, you are referred to as justice so and so. In all sincerity, I don’t have a problem with that, but please make yourselves available so that you can serve the community,” the minister stated.
He said that one of his main concerns was that “the few JPs who are willing to serve are all overburdened, [while others] have not made themselves available.
“That is why I am really reaching out for more persons who are active in the community, especially the pastors and teachers: those two vocations comprise persons who are very active in the communities,” Chuck said.
He added: “Far too often we have been appointing JPs who are business people and really they are in their business places and they don’t make themselves available. So, I would like to see, and I urge the custodes to appoint more pastors and teachers who are generally people who know the people in the community,” Chuck said.
He noted that, while Members and Parliament (MPs) and parish councillors can sign documents as JPs, they do not have a stamp or seal, because they cannot get one unless they go through the training process.
“You have to do an 18-hour training before you can become a JP, so if MPs would like to have the JP behind their names they have to go through the training like all JPs,” he explained.
However, he said that he has been having discussions with the trainers at the [Justice] Training Institute to develop a shorter programme for MPs, parish councillors, and attorneys-at-law to get a seal.
Chuck also noted that the service of JPs will have to remain unpaid because it is a voluntary service.
He said that, in discussions with Governor General Sir Patrick Allen and custodes, the position was that the Government would have to be very careful about introducing payment for the service.
However, he noted that those who are trained as mediators can be paid as mediators and custodes are paid a stipend to maintain an office and assist in the Lay Magistrates’ Court.