The Justice of the Peace Act received support from all factions of government.
“It’s the first time in 53 years that we have introduced JP law,” Glassie said.
He said the Act recognised the seriousness of the position and acknowledged JPs’ standing in the community and their sound judgment.
Under the new legislation JPs will have to fulfil a number of key requirements including, advisory skills to help clients to understand their legal rights, and the ability to deliver a fair hearing. They must also be able to counsel individuals before they go to court and be fluent in both English and Cook Islands Maori, Glassie added.
There are currently 82 JPs throughout the Cook Islands – 55 men / 27 females, 35 in Rarotonga and 47 in Pa Enua.
Potential JPs will need to possess capacity building skills required to complete training in conjunction with the Manukau District Court in Auckland. JPs will also be mentored by court judges in the Pacific region, particularly Samoa, to better understand their role, says Glassie.
“The whole Act is an empowerment of upstanding citizens to be able to make sound judgements based on what they have been trained.”
JPs’ ability to learn from local judges and lawyers will assist in their training, so they can act in their full capacity when a judge is not available.
“Not as judge, but resolving some of the smaller cases and minor disputes.”
Additionally, there are six clauses in the act regarding the resignation of a JP, with provision to punish JP’s for abusing their powers.
And the age of a serving JP has been limited to a maximum of 75. This was supported by the MP for Mitiaro, Tangata Vavia, who said, “the older the guitar, the sweeter the tune”, in reference to the wisdom some elders possess and their ability to continue service within the community.
It was also supported by opposition leader William “Smiley” Heather, who said his grandfather would have continued his service as a JP into his twilight years if he had been allowed to.
Speaker of the House Niki Rattle said the parliament legislation workshop leading up to the sitting had helped members articulate questions before hearing bills being put forward by government.