Although the office of Justice of the Peace is steeped in history, the office today derives its status and functions from a very brief statute of the New Zealand legislature, the Justice of the Peace Act 1957.
Section 3 of that Act provides that the Governor-General may from time to time, by Warrant under his or her hand, appoint fit and proper persons to be Justices. The Act does not set out how this is done, that being a matter of ministerial convention that has developed over the years. Briefly, the convention is as follows:
- Nominations for appointments are accepted only from the Member of Parliament for the electorate where the nominee resides or from a list Member of Parliament with the endorsement of the appropriate electorate Member.
- There is a standard nomination form, commonly referred to by its shoulder reference, JPB. Members of Parliament hold supplies of these forms.
- Nominees must have an adequate standard of education and a genuine desire to serve the community; they should be of good standing in the community (which is not to be identified with material prosperity), and should be respected as persons of good sense, character and integrity.
The purpose of an appointment is not to bestow an honour on a deserving citizen, but to serve the public. Notwithstanding a person’s character and ability, appointments are made only where there are not already sufficient Justices to meet the requirements of the public.
A nomination having been made by the Member of Parliament, the procedure is as follows:
- A confidential check is made through New Zealand Police to establish if the nominee has any record of criminal convictions.
- A questionnaire is completed by the appropriate local Justice of the Peace Association on the need for additional Justices in the nominee’s business or residential areas.
- The nominee is required to be interviewed by a District Court Registrar who makes a report to the Minister of Justice.
- The Minister usually considers the nominations at monthly to six weekly intervals. If the Minister then decides that the appointment is desirable, notification is sent to the Member of Parliament concerned that the appointment will be recommended to the Governor-General. Where the nomination is declined, the Member is likewise notified.
- Appointments are made by a warrant signed by the Governor-General. Notice of appointment is published in the New Zealand Gazette.
- Appointees are advised of their appointment by the Secretary for Justice and are issued with a warrant of appointment.
- Appointees are not entitled to act as Justices until they have taken the oath of allegiance and the judicial oath as required by the Oaths and Declarations Act 1957.
For many years it has been the policy of successive Ministers of Justice to decline to recommend for appointment as Justices, the members of certain professions or callings, because of their special duties and responsibilities. These include Members of Parliament, barristers and solicitors, practising medical practitioners and persons working in various aspects of law enforcement. There has also been a general policy not to appoint members of the clergy and persons in religious orders.
Oaths of Office
Justices have no authority to act until they have taken the oaths. Local Justice of the Peace Associations contact new appointees to arrange training followed by an appointment to see a District Court Judge, who will administer the oaths. There are two oaths, the Oath of Allegiance and the Judicial Oath. The form of the Oath of Allegiance is:
I…………………………….. swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Her heirs and successors, according to law. So help me God.
The form of the Judicial Oath is:
I……………………………. swear that I will well and truly serve Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Her heirs and successors, according to law in the office of Justice of the Peace; and I will do right to all manner of people after the laws and usages of New Zealand, without fear or favour, affection or ill will. So help me God.
An appointee may for religious or other reasons not wish to take an oath. He or she is then entitled, as of right, to make an affirmation and need not give any reason for wishing to do so. In that event the same forms are used as are mentioned above, but the word “swear” is deleted and the words “solemnly, sincerely, and truly declare and affirm” are substituted.
Tenure of Office
A Justice holds appointment for life, or until he or she resigns by notice in writing to the Secretary for Justice, or is removed from office by the Governor-General. The Governor-General has an unfettered discretion to remove any person from the office of Justice by publishing a notice in the New Zealand Gazette. The more usual grounds for removal are conviction for an offence punishable by imprisonment, and bankruptcy.
Ex Officio Justices
Under section 41 (4) of the Local Government Act 2002, all Mayors and Chairpersons of a territorial authority or regional council are Justices of the Peace for the period that they hold the office. If an ex officio Justice, upon relinquishing office, wishes to be then appointed as a Justice in his or her own right, the procedure outlined earlier in this chapter must be followed.
Use of the Letters “JP”
Justices are entitled to use the letters “JP” after their name, and it is the usual practice in New Zealand for the letters to be inserted after any honours, eg, Mr John Smith MBE JP.
It is improper for a Justice to use his or her office to foster business interests. Accordingly, it is most undesirable to use the words “Justice of the Peace” or the letters “JP” in advertising or commercial signs.
Auckland Association’s Boundaries (“the District”)
As agreed nationally, the Association provides the services as determined by its charitable purposes for Justices of the Peace residing in the following district: The North Boundary is a line from and including the South Head of the Kaipara Harbour across to and including Port Albert, Wellsford and Pakiri. The West Boundary is the coast line from and including the south of the Kaipara Harbour to and including the North Head of the Manukau Harbour. The South Boundary is a line from the east shore of the Manukau Harbour, through the southern boundary of Manurewa, north of the Manukau Golf Links along the north boundary of Clevdon district (not including Clevdon) to and excluding Maraetai. The East Boundary takes in all the islands of the Hauraki Gulf.