Guidelines for Ministerial Justices of the Peace – Working during Alert Level 3 – Covid19

April 27, 2020

Whilst Justices of the Peace were not categorized as an essential service during the Alert Level 4 lockdown period, there are likely to be many situations arising requiring the assistance of a Justice under Level 3.

Where a Justice is confident that they can comply with at least the minimum public health measures described below, then it would be acceptable for work to be undertaken.

There is also guidance on suggested methods to manage documents which may be administered or certified during a lockdown period.  These suggestions may not suit every situation – adaptation is expected, but always within the confines of any government direction about safety or health.

At all times consider whether the completed document will meet the requirements of the agency the documents will be presented to.

On what basis should I provide Justice of the Peace Services?

Only agree to undertake Justice of the Peace work if you are confident:

  1. That you can adhere to the Public Health Measures published by the Ministry of Health, including:
    1. Maintaining a distance of at least 2m from people who are not in your bubble
    2. Continuing hand washing before and after any interaction with an item that has been handled by someone outside your bubble (ie paper)
  2. That the service you are going to provide cannot be offered by another agency, which under the current circumstances may be more efficient for the client – for example Statutory Declarations for Kiwisaver Hardship withdrawal can be taken directly by the Kiwisaver provider.
  3. That the service you are providing will meet the requirements of the agency the documents are being prepared for – this may require a longer discussion with the presenter before the documents are delivered.
  4. That if you are providing a service via audio visual means such as Skype, Zoom, Facetime, Facebook Messenger, that you will be able to complete the work to a satisfactory standard.
  5. That you are not in a group who has been at any time identified by the government as being vulnerable to Covid19 complications – ie due to:
    1. Underlying health conditions
    2. Age profile
    3. Or someone in your bubble being vulnerable

If you are, in any way, not confident that the above standards will be achieved, please decline the clients request politely, and suggest they call another Justice or revert to the agency requiring the documentation – especially for Statutory Declarations.

Can I undertake Justice of the Peace duties at my workplace?

Yes, provided that:

  1. Your employer has agreed to you providing services
  2. You can comply with the requirements set out above
  • You comply with any other requirements your employer may have in place to ensure employees and customers are kept safe

What tasks can be undertaken using Audio Visual communications such as Skype, or Zoom?

There are a number of tasks which can be undertaken by audio visual means.  They are likely to take longer than what would normally be expected for a similar document in a face to face transaction.  They are also reliant on the Justice and the client having suitable safe access to systems such as:

  • A device with a camera, microphone and speaker – computer, laptop, tablet or mobile phone.
  • A printer – most likely a scanner or device capable of creating an image
  • Software to facilitate the scanned/photographed document being converted into a “pdf” – to prevent alteration of the document after it has been returned to the client

Statutory Declarations and Affidavits

A short-term modification of the Oaths and Declarations Act allows for Statutory Declarations and Affidavits to be taken when the person is not standing before the administrator.  The preferred method is via Audio Visual means, but where this is not possible and audio only declaration may be taken.

You will need to see or be able to audibly confirm that the client has the declaration/affidavit before them, and you must be certain that the same document will be sent to you for signing.

You will need to be careful that person you are speaking with is the person who is named as the declarant/deponent and they are aware of what is in the document. You may need to see a copy of their identification using an audio-visual tool, or to ask sufficient questions to satisfy you.

You will need to ask the client the usual questions such as confirming that the declaration/affidavit belongs to them and their knowledge of what is written in the document and taking their declaration/oath/affirmation.

The client will need to sign the document in the appropriate space, scan and email it to you for you to print out. You will need to complete the declaration/affidavit and you should specify that you took the declaration/oath/affirmation by video conference/audio call. Once you have completed the document you must scan and email it back to them.

You should confirm with the client that they received the completed document from you by email before deleting any electronic copies in your email box, in your computer files and the physical copy.

In your logbook make a note that you took the declaration/affidavit by video conference/telephone in accordance with temporary Covid-19 legislation.

In person Statutory Declarations while maintaining social distancing

Here are some suggestions if you need to take a statutory declaration/affidavit from a distance. You may find that a different process, that adheres to Health guidelines and advice, works better for you in your circumstances. If you are unsure or uncomfortable, decline to act. If you would like advice about what might be acceptable, please discuss with your Association.

  1. Explain the process to the client over the phone before they arrive at your house.
  2. Ask the client to sign their documents in advance, you will need to verbally confirm that the signature is theirs when you take their declaration/affidavit.
  • The client can leave their documents and an identification document in your letter box and then wait in their vehicle with their window down for them to speak with you.
  • You can deal with the client from a distance, you do not need to be closer than 2 meters to the car.

Certified Copies of Original Documents

A client may send you a scanned copy of a document to be stamped and signed once you have observed the original via an audio-visual tool.

It may be too difficult to ascertain the originality of a document viewed via an audio-visual tool.  If this situation arises, a Statutory Declaration will be required.

Some common questions which have already been raised:

Will I have to provide my email address to a caller who wants a document handled electronically?

Yes, you will have to supply an email address for documents to be sent to and for you to return the signed copy from.  You may choose to set up a separate email address with your provider to allow you to keep your personal address private.

It can be very easy to send an email to the incorrect address – where possible use the incoming email to send a reply and attach the completed documents to this, rather than creating a whole new email.

Should I retain the emails I receive and send?

No.  Once you have confirmed with the client that they have received the email (ask them to do this by phone or return email) you should delete both the received AND the sent emails.  If you have scanned or photographed the signed document, a copy will exist on your camera/phone or computer.  This will also need to be deleted.  The only information you should retain is exactly the same as you would record in your normal log entry – with a note that the certification was undertaken online.

You should explain your actions to the client and reassure them that no documents will be retained by you.

Can I witness a signature if I cannot be closer than 2m to the client?

You can ask the client to sign the document from a safe distance where you can observe the signing occurring. Ask them to leave the document in your letterbox and then collect it, process it and return to the letterbox.

My client lives close by and intends to walk to my house with their documents – is that ok?

Yes, provided the hygiene and safety requirements are complied with.  You may ask them to leave the documents in your letterbox and call or text you that they have done so.  Collect the documents, process them and return them to the letterbox for collection.  If they wish to stay and wait for their documents to be returned ask them politely to wait outside your property.

My client has driven to my property and parked on my driveway – is that ok?

Yes, ask them to stay in the car and pass their documents to you through an open window.  There should be no need for them to get out of the car.  Ask them to stay in the car while you process their documents.

My client requires a statement confirming their identity on an identity document such as a copy of a passport – how can I be sure that the person and the identity match if I can’t get close or they have left documents in my letterbox?

You may ask them to stand beside their car or by your letterbox once you are safely at least two meters away.

You may contact the person via an audio-visual tool and compare the document with their image.

Can a client bring their children or other family members with them?

You should ask the client at the first opportunity to attend alone.  Sometimes this may not be possible, so ask politely for all visitors to stay in their car or outside your property.

Do I need to add anything to a certification or document which has been administered using and audio-visual tool?

Yes, to ensure the agency that receives the document understands the method utilized you should add a statement near your signature/stamp which discloses this method has been used:

“Certified true copy of a document presented to me as an original via a Skype call at 3.05pm 28 April 2020

Or words to the same effect.

Can I ask the client if they have been exposed to anyone or personally had themselves Covid19?

Yes, this is a reasonable question under the current lockdown period.  You may decline to see that person and offer to certify or administer their documents using audio-visual online tools.   If you are unable to utilize audio-visual means, you should offer to find the caller an alternative Justice who can assist.

Should I modify what I record in my log?

Yes, it is important that the methodology used is recorded to allow you to check at a later date.

For example:

Sufficient detail about the client should be collected to allow contact tracing if it is requested by Health officials.  This information should be kept independently of the normal log you would also maintain and should not refer to the reason the person required your services.

For example:

This record should be securely held during the period of the pandemic notice and then destroyed.

You should explain to your client the reason for collecting this information and assure them it will be destroyed when no longer needed.  To protect the privacy of the clients’ information, it is preferable for those records to be shredded or incinerated.

Summary

Remember, there are many different ways people are reacting to the threat of Covid19, and to how their lives will be affected.  Be kind, as administering documents will be more stressful for both of you during this period and will undoubtedly take longer than using “normal” procedures.

Allow extra time and explain that every effort will be made to have the documents correctly administered, but under the circumstances both parties will have to be patient.

Whether or not you choose to see clients during level 3 is an individual decision for Justices. However, the overriding consideration is your health & safety and, in particular, the observance of the established health & safety protocols.