• Sherryl Wilson JP in Silverdale Mall_IMG_4884
  • Sherryl Wilson JP serves a community member at Silverdale Mall_IMG_4887
  • Sherryl Wilson JP at the service desk in Silverdale Mall_IMG_4869

JPs: A rewarding way to serve community

In 2022, the Auckland Justices of the Peace Association Inc, of which the North Shore is a part, celebrated its centenary, and this year the national Royal Federation of Justices’ Associations does likewise. But exactly what does a Justice of the Peace do, and how can you find one when you need one? Christine Young talked with Shore-based Sherryl Wilson JP, a past president of the Auckland Justices of the Peace Association, and a member of the board of the national Royal Federation of Justices’ Associations.

Sherryl has been a Justice (JP) for 43 years, and is not only dedicated, but passionately committed to her role. She’s not the longest serving Justice; there are several people in the Auckland association who have given 50 years’ service and even a centenarian who has devoted 60 years to the service.

And service it is. All Justices give of their time voluntarily, and are completely forbidden from accepting any gifts. Sherryl says it is important to understand that Justices are voluntary, but not volunteers. “The oath we take is the judicial oath, the same as a High Court judge. We are there to serve.” Justices go through a long process to reach the stage of being sworn in, and “once you are sworn in, you never stop learning,” she adds.

There is a mentoring process for newly sworn Justices, who start by performing duties at one of the local service desks under the oversight of an experienced Justice. While it is not mandatory to be a member of a regional association, most Justices are. Membership ensures that they are part of a regular accreditation programme and that they stay up to date with changes in their duties and the law. “There are some Justices who don’t belong to an Association, but there may be a concern that they are not up to date professionally,” says Sherryl carefully.

So where to start if you need a JP? Sherryl says there are around 170 Justices of the Peace on the Shore, taking in Orewa and Whangaparaoa, so there’s no shortage. The website of the Royal Federations of Justices lists all members of the 28 Associations across New Zealand. Head to either the Auckland Association or Royal Federation websites (see below) for an easy “Find a JP” section, enter your suburb, and select from the directory of JPs, all of whom are members of their association. Both website home pages have a useful checklist outlining what you need to bring to your visit. Sherryl notes that you should take ID that has your photo on it – this can be a passport or drivers’ licence; recently a Gold Card with a photo (you can get that added at any AA office) has been added as a recognised form of ID.

You can contact any Justices directly, but you are better to locate a local service desk on the Auckland Justices of the Peace Association site. The various service desks offer a range of times and locations, and no appointment is needed. Simply enter your suburb or postcode and click on the name of the service desk to find times and the exact location.

Sherryl says that although people can visit some Justices at their private address, the emphasis has shifted, and “we try to channel people to go to the service desks”. There are around a dozen service desks on the Shore, located in places like libraries, malls, the North Shore Court, Age Concern and rest homes. The service desk at Silverdale Mall, for example, where Sherryl serves, is open seven days a week and one late night. The Glenfield mall service desk has a different late night, and at Takapuna Library the service desk operates on a Sunday as well as three weekdays. Service desks are open for a specified time slot, and at busy times there will be more than one Justice, to ensure wait times are not too long.

As for what a JP can do, the Ministry of Justice website provides a somewhat dry explanation: “Justices of the Peace have no inherent jurisdiction and may exercise only those powers given to them by legislation” with a few limited examples. It goes on to say that “a limited number of JPs also undertake judicial duties within the District Court. Judicial JP functions include:

  • jurisdiction determined by statute, including minor offences and some traffic cases
  • issue of remands and bail
  • hearing of undefended cases
  • presiding over defended trials.”

Sherryl elaborates with some examples of where a Justice can and sometimes must be involved. “Fifty percent of what we do is certifying documents such as drivers’ licence, or passport. We also take statutory declarations – about anything you want, for example, withdrawing retirement savings, or sponsoring someone to come to New Zealand.” If you wish to make a statutory declaration, you can download the statutory declaration form from the website before visiting the Justice or service desk.

Other tasks can include the taking of affidavits and declarations, witnessing signatures and documentation relating to the dissolution of marriage. Each form or declaration requires different processes and handling, made more complicated if there are to be documents attached. “The role is wide and varied,” Sherryl notes.

She adds that Justices can no longer sign passport applications; the application has to be signed by a New Zealand citizen who has known you for at least 12 months.

To become a Justice of the Peace you must put your name forward to your local electorate MP. (Download the nomination form from the website.) The documentation with your CV and any supporting material then goes to the Ministry of Justice for a background check, and then to the Royal Federation, which sends it to the appropriate Association, and the applicant is interviewed. If you make it through the process, a recommendation is made to the Associate Minister of Justice, and the appointment is provisional. Only then do you start the induction training, after which you sit an online test which you MUST pass to be confirmed as a Justice. Your appointment is then gazetted and signed off by the Governor General of New Zealand.

“This may take a year to 18 months,” says Sherryl. Once your appointment is confirmed you are sworn in by a District Court judge and only then can you perform duties as a Justice of the Peace.

Justices come from all walks of life, adds Sherryl. The reality is that many are recently retired and want to contribute to their community, as younger people are often fully committed with work and family, but she notes that the Associations welcome younger people.

It is an interesting and rewarding way to help others in the community, and over a century after inception, Justices of the Peace continue to serve a vital role in our justice system.

If you are interested in learning more, visit these websites:

Auckland Justices of the Peace Association https://jpauckland.org.nz/locate-jp/

Royal Federation of NZ Justices' Associations https://justiceofthepeace.org.nz/