Justices of the Peace (JPs) will require additional training, so as to enable them to preside over matters that are not now within their purview.
This was disclosed by Minister of Justice, Senator the Hon. Mark Golding, in a message read by Senior Director for Strategic Planning, Policy Research and Evaluation at the Ministry, Mr. Peter Parchment, at the annual general meeting of the Kingston Chapter of the Lay Magistrates Association of Jamaica, held on February 4, in Downtown Kingston.
Senator Golding explained that the additional training was recommended by the Justice System Reform Task Force (JSRTF), which reviewed the justice system in 2007.
This is necessary as currently, JPs do not need legal qualifications to be selected for the post.
The JSRTF had recommended expanding the schedule of matters heard in the Court of Petty Sessions; and increasing the jurisdictional limit of the petty court to alleviate the burden of citizens, who must otherwise appear in the Resident Magistrate’s Court.
Senator Golding further noted that with the training, the “JPs will then be allowed to preside over small claims and other matters, with the help of a court staff, such as the Clerks of Court, who are trained in legal issues."
“The recommendation by the task force to consider an increase in the role of the JPs in terms of their quasi-judicial functions will also require that steps be taken to increase the number of JPs who are willing to serve in the Courts,” the Minister said.
The current complement of JPs is approximately 6,000, of which 1,400 have been placed on the roster for service in the Court of Petty Sessions.
“It is estimated that the required number of Justices of the Peace who will serve in a judicative capacity may be tripled. In addition the changes envisaged will also translate into an increase in the complement of Resident Magistrates, which currently stands at 55,” Senator Golding pointed out.
The Minister explained that to support the increased number of JPS who will serve in the Court of Petty Sessions, more Clerks of the Court will be required. This, he said, will demand a strong selection and training programme, more court rooms and support staff.
“The fact is, the policy regarding these recommendations is still being drafted,” Senator Golding said.
He informed that there has been stakeholder consensus in some areas, including an increase in the jurisdiction limit of the RM court (common law matters) from $250,000 to $2 million, with no pleadings and up to a maximum of $4 million with pleadings; increase in the jurisdiction limit for small claims from $50,000 to $100,000; and an increase in the jurisdiction limit for the Court of Petty Sessions from $2,000 to $20,000.
The Minister also reported that there has been stakeholder consensus for the expansion of the jurisdiction of the Court of Petty Sessions to include: traffic offences (uncontested traffic offences, and where the offender is willing to pay the prescribed fine); Rent Restriction Act (matters related to landlords and tenants, with the consent of parties involved); small claims (less complicated and non contentious claims within the jurisdictional limit for the Court of Petty Sessions); and minor cases of praedial larceny.
“We will have to continue the dialogue to ensure that the final policy is one which is mutually satisfying to all stakeholders. We pledge to continue working with you even as the role of the JP continues to evolve, and by working together, ensure that justice is equitable and distributed to all,” Senator Golding said.
By Latonya Linton, JIS Reporter