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Serving as a Justice of the Peace

A detailed guide to becoming a JP

 

1. IS IT FOR ME?

WON'T IT TAKE UP TOO MUCH TIME?

As a Justice you will be required to sit regularly. There is no minimum number of sittings you are expected to fulfil, but JPs are rota'd to be on call for a week on a regular basis (roughly one week each month). This involves being available throughout the week to sit in court when required, deal with out of hours applications for warrants or to sign paperwork.

In addition to this, you are expected to play an active role in the life of the Bench, attending regular training events, and meetings as necessary. (See section on Your Training).

WHAT ABOUT MY JOB?

If you are employed, you must establish with your employer that you will be allowed to take reasonable time off work to undertake the duties of a JP.

Justices are on a rota system, placing them "on call" for a week at a time. This rota is based upon information given to the Court by JPs as to when they are available. Being "on call" does not mean that you will need to be available each day and therefore cannot go into work; it means that you will be the first person to be contacted in the event that there are matters in the Summary Court.

Under Section 33 of the Employment Protection Ordinance, an employer is required to give you time off to undertake your JP duties. The application pack will contain a leaflet, "Employing a Justice of the Peace," which you can pass to your employer for information.

2. YOUR CREDENTIALS

JPs come from a whole range of backgrounds and occupations. They are men and women with sound judgement and personal integrity. They know their local community well, are able to listen to all sides of an argument and can contribute to fair and reasonable decisions. They are also reliable and prepared to give up their time to perform this vital role. Some find this easier than others, but many people in full time employment also serve as Justices.

AGE REQUIREMENT

You must be at least 18 years old to apply. Justices ordinarily retire from the bench at the age of 70 and it is normally expected that a period of five years' service will take place before retirement. For this reason we would not generally look to appoint anyone who is aged over 65. However, applications are dealt with on a case by case basis and if you feel you have skills and time you can offer for a lesser period or are over 65 then you will of course be considered.

FORMAL QUALIFICATIONS

You don't need any formal or academic qualifications. Nor do you need any previous legal training or experience. A legally qualified adviser will be in court to advise on relevant aspects of the law, and you are provided with structures to assist you in your decision making, together with guidelines for sentencing.

ESSENTIAL QUALITIES

There are, however, six key qualities which are regarded as vital if you are to perform successfully in the role of a JP. It doesn't matter how or where you developed these qualities. It could be through your current or previous employment, involvement in community or voluntary activities, public appointments, leisure activities, family life or academic study. The most important thing is that you can demonstrate these in the selection process and, if appointed, apply them to the role. They are:

° Good character: to have personal integrity and enjoy the respect and trust of others.

° Understanding and communication: to be able to understand documents, identify relevant facts, follow evidence and communicate effectively.

° Social awareness: to appreciate and accept the rule of law.

° Maturity and sound temperament: to have an awareness and understanding of people and a sense of fairness.

° Sound judgement: to be able to think logically, weigh arguments and reach a sound decision.

° Commitment and reliability: to be committed to serving the community, willing to undergo training and to be in sufficiently good health to undertake your duties on a regular basis.

NATIONALITY & RESIDENCE

You must be a Commonwealth citizen.

All candidates must be willing to take the Oath of Allegiance.

YOUR EMPLOYMENT

There are some occupations that could present a possible conflict of interest if you were selected as a JP – it isn't possible to list them all. Similar concerns apply to the occupation of your spouse, your partner or a close relative. That is why the application form asks for details about these people. This information won't necessarily disqualify you, but it will need to be taken into account.

BANKRUPTCY

If you are an undischarged bankrupt, you will not be appointed as a JP. If you have been declared bankrupt in the past, but are now solvent, we will need to consider:

° The circumstances surrounding your bankruptcy.

° When it was declared.

° The extent to which creditors were paid (particularly if they were local).

° Whether there is likely to be any adverse reaction if you are appointed

CONVICTIONS, ORDERS AND MOTORING OFFENCES

When considering candidates who have been subject to any order of a court (civil or criminal), various factors, including the nature and seriousness of the offence, will be considered before an appointment is made. Justices deal with motoring offences, and while minor motoring offences are not usually an issue, serious motoring offences, or persistent offending, might disqualify you.

3. YOUR TRAINING

The importance of the JP's role is reflected in the mandatory training programme you undergo to prepare you. It is delivered locally by the Head of Courts and Tribunals Service or a member of his or her team.

The training will help you develop all the knowledge and skills you need to become an effective and confident JP.

It is based on a competence framework and includes:

° Reading and exercises that cover your role and responsibilities

° Induction and core training before you sit in court,

° Court observations,

° A visit to a prison establishment,

° Consolidation training. This builds upon the learning and experience you have gained and ordinarily takes place after about a year.

As well as training in law and procedure, you will also focus on developing the skills you need, such as:

° structured decision-making

° communicating

° listening

° awareness of community needs

° respect and lack of bias or prejudice

° problem solving

° team work

MENTORING

The training scheme recognises that the most effective way to develop as a JP is to learn from the experience of sitting in court.

To assist this process, all new Justices are provided with a mentor – an experienced JP who has been through your training process and can offer experience of the role. Your mentor will advise, support, and guide you, especially during the first few months of your service as a JP. During your first year you will have four formal sittings attended by your mentor, each of which is followed by an opportunity to discuss the day's business with your mentor. You will reflect on how you have applied the knowledge and skills you developed during your induction and core training and, using the competence framework, consider whether or not you have any further training and development needs.

UPDATE TRAINING

The law and procedures that affect the Summary Court change from time to time and you will be expected to keep up to date.

When there are major changes in legislation you will be provided with written material or formal training to help you learn and apply the new law.

ADDITIONAL TRAINING

If you wish to become a court Chairman, or to work in the Youth Court or Family Proceedings Court, there is extra training to prepare you for these roles because you need to achieve additional competences.

We recognise that JPs are volunteers and that your time is valuable, so every effort is made to provide all training at times and places convenient for the bench.