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Volunteer service subject to tough standards

Issued: 9 February 2014

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Forty-eight Justices of the Peace were removed from office in NSW over the past two years to ensure the continuing high standards of the valuable, voluntary community service, Attorney General Greg Smith SC has said.

"JPs are a group of unsung heroes in our community, who give freely of their time to provide an important service to their communities. Many of them provide a regular, free service for several hours every week, some even daily, witnessing thousands of signatures a year, and I cannot thank them enough for their commitment," he said.

More than 90,000 people hold an appointment as a JP in NSW. Their primary functions are to witness the signing of a statutory declaration or affidavit, and to certify a copy of an original document. To be eligible for appointment as a JPs must be of good character and not be an undischarged bankrupt.

The good character test considers factors such as:

  • any criminal history of the applicant

  • any adverse finding or comment about the applicant's character by a court, tribunal, professional association or regulatory body,

  • any disqualification from managing a company under the Corporations Act 2001 or from holding a licence, registration or membership in any profession or industry.

JPs must be adults and generally must be Australian citizens, they have to be nominated by a NSW parliamentarian and establish their appointment is needed to fulfil a community or employment need. Once appointed, they must also abide by the Code of Conduct for JPs in NSW requiring them to act honestly and with courtesy and respect, not to reveal confidential information, and remain independent. They must declare any changes in their circumstances and must not offer legal advice or charge for their services.

At the end of their five year appointment, about 10 per cent of JPs are not reappointed because they fail to reapply, or no longer meet the criteria. Criminal record checks are conducted before reappointment. JPs can be removed if they fail to meet the standards, become mentally incapacitated or have failed to carry out their functions.

"It is important that the Government ensures the standards and values are strictly upheld so the public can retain their confidence in JPs."

Fewer than 0.1 per cent of JPs were removed from service in the past two years, the majority of them because they were undischarged bankrupts or no longer met the eligibility criteria.

"JPs are valued volunteers who make an important contribution to their local communities, and we are supporting them in their important task," Mr Smith said.

"My department has just updated the JP Handbook detailing their duties, and will be writing to all JPs advising them of their obligation to read it. It is available online at www.jp.nsw.gov.au/handbook."

"I urge all JPs and people interested in becoming involved with this valuable service, to read the handbook and familiarise themselves with the obligations of a JP."

Fact sheets, explaining the basic role of a JP, what to expect from a JP, and how to find one, are also available in 12 community languages at www.jp.nsw.gov.au