What is ‘Justice of the Peace’?
What is ‘Justice of the Peace’?
Mr R Rajaram (one of the 64 Justices of the peace who was appointed on the 1st September 2020)
Sixty-four Justices of the Peace (JP) took the oath of office and allegiance in Singapore on 1st September for a term of 5 years in a ceremony officiated by the Presiding Judge of the State Courts. They were appointed for significant contributions in their professions, the public service, social services and community at large.
Justices of the Peace (JP) originate in English legal tradition from medieval times when knights and members of the gentry were commissioned to keep the “King’s Peace”. They were unpaid volunteers with specific but limited police powers and could hear minor cases. The modern-day JP in England and Wales is typically a layperson whose duties evolved from those first bestowed upon them under the Justice of the Peace Act of 1361. Each appointee undergoes training in basic law and in the administrative duties of the magistrates’ court. In Scotland, a JP is a lay magistrate appointed from within the local community, provided some training in criminal law and procedure, and deals with less serious summary crimes, such as speeding, careless driving and breach of the peace.
The practice of appointing JPs exists elsewhere too. The website of the Ministry of Justice of Jamaica describes the JP “as a person of unquestionable integrity who seeks to promote and protect the rights of individuals and helps to give justice to those persons in a particular community.” Canada, New Zealand, Belgium, Tonga, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Ireland, among others, all appoint JPs to undertake somewhat similar roles.
In colonial Singapore, the first of the JPs were appointed in the early 1800s. They were prominent men and community leaders trusted by the government, and for the most part, helped to relieve the backlog of cases to be heard before the courts.
Tan Tock Seng who set up a hospital in Singapore that exists till today was the first Asian Justice of the Peace. So was P Govindasamy Pillai, another pioneering Singaporean and founder member of the Indian Chamber of Commerce and a well-known philanthropist who donated to temples including the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple. Mohamed Eunos bin Abdullah touted as the “father” of modern Malay journalism was a JP too.
JPs continue to be appointed in Singapore to the present day by the President as part of this enduring tradition. However, with a professionalized judiciary, the role of the JP has changed.
The modern duties and powers of a JP in Singapore include serving as Visiting Justices of our prisons and acting as a witness of character under several statutes. They also perform the duties of the Magistrate conferred on them by any written law.
Appointment as a JP is a solemn responsibility and one that befits the active contribution the recipients have made in their chosen field of endeavour.
The Indian Justices of the Peace who took oath on the 1st September are
- Mr Rajan s/o V K Krishnan (second term)
- Mr Ramamoorthy s/o Krishnan
- Mr M Rajaram
- Mr Rajaram Ramasubban
- Dr Prem Kumar Nair
- Mr Chandra Mohan Rethnam
- Mr Devendran Selvarajoo Devar
- Mr Gopala Krishnan s/o Muthu Radha Krishnan
- Mrs Sarojin d/o R Venkatasamy
- Ms Chandra Mallika