The National Association of Justices of the Peace and Commissioner of the Supreme Court, held their fifteenth annual general meeting on Sunday morning. Attorney General Vanessa Retreage was the guest speaker. She spoke of the number of new applicants applying to be Justices of the Peace.
“In recent years there has been increase in the number of applications and appointments of justices of the peace in Belize. To date there are approximately over 3,000 Justices of the Peace and approximately 400 senior Justices of the Peace. With applications not only pending but received on a daily basis for new appointments. I think it is prudent at this juncture to address the popular question as to the difference between the two types of justices of the peace that exist in Belize; that is Justice of the Peace Simplicitor and Senior Justice of the Peace. The fundamental difference between the two is seniority based on tender and performance with persons being eligible for appointments as senior justices of the peace after ten years of appointment as a Justice of the Peace Simplicitor. The elevation to Senior Justice of the Peace is not only dependent on years of service but in acknowledgment that those persons have performed their duties in an exemplary manner. It is my opinion that this prospect of elevation ought to higher standards of performance for all Justices of the Peace.”
She also discussed the roles and responsibilities of being a Justice of the Peace and said added that the position is one of status and not just honor.
“Justices of the Peace are required to be worthy of appointment and recommendation, in other words a person of unquestionable integrity who seeks to positively assist persons in the country. I state with great emphasis here that the office of the Justice of the Peace is a voluntary one. Therefore a Justice of the Peace must never charge no accept any reward for services performed in his or her capacity as a Justice of the Peace. The office is a position of status, and not just one of honor. It is one that involves serious duties and responsibilities and an acknowledgment that in discharging the duties of the office you will be required to give of your time without the expectation of reward. The jurisdiction and functions of JPs are provided for in section 4 of the Justice of the Peace act and generally without limitation include the following; the witnesses of oaths and affidavits, taking of statutory declarations or affirmations, witnessing signatures to official documents, attesting to the execution of documents and certifying true copies of original documents. A Justice of the peace must be cognizant of the fact that the oath taken on affirmation is not mere form but rather an undertaking to be observed and that the appointment is not simply and honor bestowed but an undertaking of a civic duty for which it is an honor to be selected.”
Attorney General Retreage spoke on the issues of misconduct by Justices of the Peace. She said she has received a number of complaints about JP’s and she gave them a strong warning.
“I urge you all to become familiar with the new Justices of the Peace act in particular section 5 on the 4th schedule which comprises the code of ethics. I am sure that most of you will agree that certain services provided by a Justice Of the Peace can be taxing but the performance of these services forms part of a civic duty to Belize and must be discharged conscientiously without fear or favor, affection or ill will. Since the attorney general’s Ministry is the overseer of this entire process we are likewise responsible to safeguard and protect our citizens. I have received since appointment as attorney general several informal complaints about misconduct of Justices of the Peace. I have on each occasion requested that a formal complaint be launched with my office in order that the proper investigation be carried out and the necessary action be taken. I take this opportunity to send a strong warning to those Justices of the Peace who have not carried out their duties in accordance with the law and specifically those who insist on charging for performing functions of their office that this misconduct will not be tolerated. It is my full intent to investigate all complaints received and where justified remove persons as Justices of the Peace.”