A Justice of the Peace serves the community, while being a part of it. According to the Act (2004), a JP may perform his or her functions anywhere in the State unless the commission appointing the JP says otherwise.
Historically, JPs often served alongside other JPs in Magistrate’s Courts, particularly so in rural areas. The JP training program consequently includes sections on the judgements that a JP in such a role might make. Current practice is that JPs do not serve in this capacity, but it remains useful training. JP training also covers the processes of Bail and Surety under the Act. Most JPs today will not process Surety applications: this role is usually carried out by Registrars or the Clerk of Courts at various courthouses. Some courthouses ask JPs to handle the Bail end of the process: this is at the discretion of the relevant Clerk of Courts.
Today’s JP is likely to spend most of their time being witness to a range of important legal documents, including Affidavits, Statutory Declarations, Wills, EPAs (for Enduring Power of Attorney), EPGs (for Enduring Power of Guardianship) as well as certifying copies of legal documents such as birth, marriage and death certificates, academic records and licences. Many of these activities are carried out at signing centres: these may be located at courthouses, Citizen’s Advice Bureau offices or libraries, often on a roster basis through RAJWA branches.
JPs also play an important role in approving Arrest and Search Warrants. Requests of this nature may be made by police in or out of business hours. Although any JP up to the age of 75 can be asked to sign these documents, most RAJWA branches also have a roster of JPs who provide the service after hours. Warrants are also issued from other locations such as police stations, courthouses and Citizen’s Advice Bureaus by rostered volunteers.
It is clear from this range of responsibilities that a Justice of the Peace will be entrusted with and view personal information and documents of great importance to those who bring them to a JP’s attention. Those clients expect to be met by competent and efficient JPs, who conduct themselves with the dignity expected of the role while seeing each new client as an individual who is trying to fulfill the sometimes challenging requirements of bureaucratic or legal processes. Witnessing documents relating to loss of life or the end of relationships, for example, give JPs unique interactions with people experiencing a transition or change in their lives, and it is important for the role and the members of the public involved that such exchanges take place in a non-judgemental, respectful and kind way that does not intrude into the other party’s privacy any more than is legally required of the JP in the situation.