For over five years, the National Association of Justices of the Peace and Commissioners of the Supreme Court, has been seeking higher standards in respect to the appointment, functions and liabilities of Justices of the Peace (JP).
In 2005, after approaching the Ministry of the Attorney General, the Association finished drafting and formulating a document,Justices of the Peace Act, 2005, which consisted of 9 chapters, that suggested a code of conduct to which Justices of the Peace and Senior Justices of the Peace [An officer who can perform civil marriages] should adhere.
On August 24, 2005, the Justices of the Peace Act was assented to by the Governor General, Sir Colville Young, by and with the advice and consent of the House of Representatives and the Senate of Belize; yet the document was still not legal because it was not signed into law, something that was overlooked according to Adrian “Danny Madrid, president of the JP Association, because of the good working relationship with the previous administration.
Under the Inferior Courts Act, Chapter 77 of the Laws of Belize, a Justice of the Peace is appointed by the minister, who may in like manner remove any Justice of the Peace from office.
The duties of the Justices of the Peace are generally requested by fellow citizens to perform tasks such as the witnessing of official documents, including passport applications, marriage licenses application, and declaration forms.
The issue of the JP act has come into public debate once more. Still, after years of lobbying, the document has not been legalized. The subject of its legalization arises with not one, but several reports of JP’s found in compromising positions, such as fraudulent land transactions, and most recently, reports of a JP who allegedly tried to sodomize a teen.
When Amandala spoke this morning with Madrid, he insisted this is the reason why the Justices of the Peace Act must be signed into law, so that the Association can deal with those JP’s, who have tarnished their role in the administration of justice.
He said that the responsibility of a Justice of the Peace is to always serve the people without charging a fee for their services.
He further said that until the act is signed into the law, there is nothing the Association can do to chastise the rogue JP’s, and that it was only the Attorney General, who had the power to revoke the appointment.
Madrid also told us, “Anyone can be a Justice of the Peace; the minister just has to appoint you without any background information.
“As a matter of fact, as we speak now, an individual is being appointed. They are just being called and told sign this paper and become a JP not because it is their true desire to be JP but because they don’t want to tell the minister no.”
According to Madrid, background information on JP’s is vital. He said that a person wanting to become a JP must have a clean police record. He told us that in the past, to become a JP, a person had to go through a procedure. The applicant would have to fill out an application form, present a police record, produce two recommendation letters, give a reason or reasons as to why they want to become a J.P and then take three hours of training.
In April 12, 2010, Madrid wrote a letter to the Ombudsman’s office. The two-paragraph letter was addressed to Ombudsman Cynthia Pitts.
It reads, Dear Ms. Pitts, “At our last meeting held in Cayo district, it was agreed to write you and to seek your assistance concerning the J.P. Act which was passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate in 2005. It is our understanding that all that is needed is for the Minister to send it to the Governor General for its signing into law.
“The Association of Justices of the Peace and Commissioners of the Supreme Court would like to request your assistance in helping us to speak to the Attorney General or the Prime Minister so that this act can be signed into law. By not signing this act into law, it is preventing the Association from performing its duties and functions properly.
“Nevertheless, we continue to serve our community and hold our monthly meetings and our annual meetings as stated by the Act, and Bylaws.”
In 2008, the Association invited the then Attorney General, Wilfred Elrington to one of their meetings, to discuss the way JP’s were being appointed through area representatives.
According to Madrid, Elrington was unable to attend the meeting, and the meeting was postponed.
According to Madrid, the whole issue is political, when it should not be. In 2006, after there was a change in City Council, he said that the association was asked to vacate their office at the Commercial Center in Belize City.
Madrid says that his office on North Front Street has also become the office of the Association.
We tried contacting Hon. Wilfred Elrington this afternoon, but were told he had stepped out of office. On July 29, Mr. Elrington was featured in a local news channel. He said that during his tenure as Attorney General, the Association had invited him several times to swear in Justices of the Peace, who had been appointed through the Association.
Elrington said that there was no provision stating that this was the manner in which Justices of the Peace were to be appointed, and that they should be appointed by the Attorney General and not through the Association.
Elrington also said that the Association was politically divided.
According to Madrid, the Attorney General needs to put the act into law; but that they have been informed that it is a Cabinet decision.
There are 3,000 Justices of the Peace in Belize, and of those, only 300 form part of the Association.